Stephanski Essay 1

The E-volution of E-reading

Managing Editor Ariel Foxman publishes his latest “Editor’s Note” in the March 2010 issue of InStyle Magazine, summarizing the spring fashion issue and its many components. “First, check out ‘Clothes We Love’ (p. 257) for our report on the best, most wearable runway trends” (56). Then, in the midst of referencing tangible, printed pages, comes the digital shift. “Next, grab your magazine and head to InStyle.com/cwl,” he writes, “to download the plug-in” (Foxman 56). Following the instructions provided, readers are guided to their webcams and prompted to hold up a designated page to the camera. At once, 3-D videos of products and “must-haves” for the season fill the screen. A biased print media lover might ponder the references to “plug-in” and “3-D videos” and ultimately face the reality presented: the digital age is here, and it is not going away anytime soon.

Creating the Online “Experience”

This particular print-to-digital media shift did not occur suddenly, but its speed and impact have accumulated great intensity. The print industry is weathering a difficult media storm, one that causes audiences to convert to digital means of information gathering and leisurely reading. David Granger, editor-in-chief of Esquire Magazine, explains, “Whatever digital philosophy I have, that’s it – to use technology to actually get people excited about things that are in the magazine” (Krashinsky B1). When, exactly, did readers lose excitement for printed publications?

Granger further explains this onset of print boredom in reference to web-integrated portions of magazines such as InStyle’s 3-D videos: “Yeah, they’re gimmicks. … What gimmicks do is they cause people to come and experience your magazine” (Krashinsky B1). Perhaps “experience” is the key. Simply reading sentences, glancing at images, and thumbing through glossy pages are no longer the stimulating activities they once were. Magazines must now create cutting-edge media components that allow physical interaction with the reader, satisfying the expectations that society currently holds for these bound pages of text.

There is an apparent dichotomy, however, in terms of creating an enjoyable, engaging experience for readers. Victor Nell has studied ludic, or pleasurable, reading across various media, and his observations show that reading for enjoyment is possible on the Internet, but there are other factors working against the reader that cause him or her to “read a sentence, get dinged by IM, [and] never return to the story again” (Agger para. 19). The nature of the Internet is one of skimming and low absorption––readers obtain key pieces of information and quickly navigate to the next website. If Nell’s research holds true and there really are too many distractions inhibiting in-depth reading online, then Internet users essentially derive no real pleasure from the pieces they read. Surfing the web is thus merely methodical, providing users with routine information gathering.

The “Screen” and Other Devices

The print industry simply cannot keep up with Internet advancements; users of online publications and e-books can not only read and formulate opinions, but they can then post those opinions, have others comment on them, and even share the links on a Facebook or Twitter page. The electronic possibilities are endless, and unfortunately for the print industry, the possibilities fall short.

Apple’s new iPad is one of these electronic platforms changing the outlook for print. At 0.5 inch thin and with a 9.7-inch screen, the new tablet will change the way consumers read magazines and newspapers. More portable than a laptop, the iPad seemingly mimics the idea of holding a printed publication, yet offers the storage of multiple publications in a single computer. The main issue here, though, may be the motivation behind large publishers to digitize their publications: revenue. The iPad will allow these large companies to charge for electronic forms of the newspapers and magazines, generating sales for gains lost in the print sector. Naturally, as a business, this is one of the top priorities, but it is worth noting that something intrinsic about reading and writing is lost in the translation from print to web. The value of readership and journalism has dropped drastically year after year, and if print ad sales decrease, there is no longer the need nor the money to sustain the industry. Thus, this is where the publisher’s focus has shifted – navigating the intricate World Wide Web is the new art form, not journalism.

The Kindle is yet another facilitator of the e-reading trend that has the print industry buzzing. At only 10.3 ounces, it is lighter than an average paperback, making it an attractive novel imposter. The features are, however, attractive to those seeking a solution to common issues one encounters while reading. There is no longer a need to turn on a lamp while reading a novel; the Kindle allows for reading in the dark. Many people need reader lenses to avoid squinting while reading a book; no need for such a thing with the Kindle––it magnifies the text on its own. What’s more, stumbling upon unknown vocabulary terms no longer requires a troublesome trip to the dictionary; Kindle allows the reader to check definitions online. Josh Freed cleverly explains, “To browse a book you don’t use Internet Explorer––you simply flip backward or forward a few pages. There’s no point pressing on the page––you won’t get Google no matter how hard you push” (A2). When did society become so indolent?

The fast-paced nature of today’s society is most likely to blame for this lethargic outlook on printed text. A click on a computer screens enables a user to access information instantaneously and with very little effort. Suddenly, turning a page is an inconvenience. The once tangible connection between the reader and the text is broken; there is now a both literal and metaphorical “screen” between the two. Freed explains, “Ultimately, a book is more intimate and sensual than a screen. We log onto the computer, but we curl up in bed with a book” (A2).

Conclusions

It is no surprise that the Internet is beginning to consume the lives of its users, one market sector at a time. Yet, the difference between brief news clips appearing online and entire volumes of Shakespeare surfacing on a Kindle is a matter of art. To read a text cover to cover is to experience it, yet the “screen” adds a new aspect to the action of reading; printed words and handwritten annotations are now blended into bitmaps. Even those print magazines still in circulation have digital components prompting the reader to take a break from enjoying an article and instead engage in an online experience. E-reading has taken hold of the reins in steering the publishing industry, and with most people using computers frequently on a daily basis, reading online will become routine.

While the print industry will not disappear immediately, its imminent demise marks the beginning of a new era, one that will shape lives in ways society cannot yet conceive. Printed text has endured centuries and is now approaching obsolescence at an alarming rate. In no way, however, should the Internet be condemned for the spawning of electronic forms of everything. Like all things, the Web has its time and place. An art form such as a book, however, is not such a place at which to enact complete digitization. Since the Internet is praised for its rapid processing of information, should there not be a medium for which society slows down? There is permanency in books, newspapers, and magazines; they sit on shelves and coffee tables for years to come, annotated and broken in. Perhaps their best feature is the nonexistent “Delete” button, at least for now.

Works Cited

Agger, Michael. “Lazy Eyes: How we read online.” Slate.com, Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC, 13 June 2008. Web. 28 February 2010 http://www.slate.com/id/2193552/.

Foxman, Ariel. “Editor’s Note.” InStyle Magazine March 2010: 56. Print.

Freed, Josh. “You can’t curl up in bed with a touch screen.” The Gazette (Montreal) 3 October 2009: A2.
LexisNexis. Web. 27 February 2010.

Krashinsky, Susan. “The future of the magazine; with ad revenue falling, editors are going digital, but time is running out.” The Globe and Mail 18 December 2009: B1. LexisNexis. Web. 27 February 2010.

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