Last week, Sketchbook’s Newburgh Street premises played host to one of the creative industries’ hottest current topics; the ongoing debate concerning the changing natures of printed and digital matter. Chaired by arts journalist Clare Acheson and with a panel that included design writer and avid Tweeter Adrian Shaughnessy, fashion blog pioneer Susanna Lau (more popularly known by her pseudonym Susie Bubble), Stylesight.com trend director Sandrine Maggiani and fashion publication mastermind Becky Smith, the afternoon’s proceedings saw many opinions shared, concerns voiced and cupcakes consumed.
While the event’s title, Print Vs. Online, seemed to suggest that the two disciplines would be battling it out in an effort to claim the crown of today’s most popular media choice, the reality was far from it. Ideas of why one form may be better than another for a specific task or audience bubbled to the surface; blogs and web-based methods provide free platforms and have become the newspapers of today, publishing short bursts of instantaneous information, whereas magazines cater to a more thoughtful audience who will invest time and money in articles, digesting them one-at-a-time and at their own leisure.
Becky Smith, previously of Lula magazine fame and currently at the helm of Twin, acutely sighted the lack of journalistic skill or opinion displayed on many current blogs, which simply rehash press releases received in that morning’s inbox influx. This point of conversation allowed Susanna Lau’s successful ethos to shine through. Leading by example, she highlighted the importance of injecting a shot of originality into online publishing spaces and keenly emphasised that her career in the blogosphere began as an outlet for her own unique observations, free from strategic planning; something that has been lost due to the recent rise of the blog as a vehicle for recognition and celebrity.
Luckily, the discussion also fell at a time when the hybridisation of the two platforms was of particular importance. Taking place the day after the Publishing Complaints Commission announced that it expected “the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions” with regards to a post made by British journalist and Spectator affiliate Ron Liddle, Adrian Shaughnessy was quick to point out that a set of rules is yet to be established for most online content and, while that is what makes the internet such an appealing medium for free speech, it may not last indefinitely.
Of course, one of the key questions when pursuing any endeavor, creative or otherwise, is money. From advertising to annual subscriptions, the key point of discussion surrounding this issue was the mutual support of on- and offline content. Sandrine Maggiani offered an insight into brand collaborations and limited edition runs of printed matter, recommending these as methods for convincing consumers to part with their hard-earned cash, and Adrian added that even the iPad will not change most readers’ habits due to the discomfort of onscreen viewing. The concept of paid media subscription fees was met with a resoundingly negative response; something that may have come as an ominous death toll for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire during the week that also saw the announcement of web content access fees to his News International online spaces.
Similarly, the over-merchandising of publications was also frowned upon, Tyler Brulé’s Monocle being cited as a prime example. The typical reader, in his Monocle branded beach shorts and flip-flops, can make calls on his Monocle Blackberry which he keeps in his Monocle canvas shopper, along with his Monocle leather notebook and Monocle fragrance; perfect for slinging over his shoulder while he takes a ride on his Monocle bicycle. If, perched on his Monocle stool, he’s feeling reflective, he can read some Monocle endorsed contemporary philosophy with the aid of his Monocle freestanding reading lamp or even by Monocle candlelight. Find me a better case of twenty-first century “brandout” and I’ll eat my Monocle hat.
To conclude, many predictions for the future of publishing were made, most acknowledging that online communication has a firm hold on society and that the internet is here to stay. While augmented reality software and the linking of magazines to locked digital content were areas touched on only briefly due to time, all of the contributors agreed that the innovation in interactive design that is to come will drastically change how we view media, both print and online.
Perhaps a seemingly specialised event, Print Vs. Online addressed issues which will affect us all in the coming years, whether logging onto our daily digital networks or leafing through our favourite fashion fixes. A vital and insightful discussion, Sketchbook hopes to see many more successful events through to fruition before the end of its London residency later in the month. Watch this space.
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Text by FABIAN JAMES
Images by CLIEDE CARINA and SOPHIE BLACKMAN