Why I decided to start a print magazine in the age of digital media
The co-founder of new fashion and culture publication ALL-IN tells us why he's not crazy – and why print is more important than ever.
As print magazines fold each month, fledgling writers compete to work for digital media companies, and young people increasingly live their lives online, is there still a place for the print magazine? And is it total and complete lunacy to start a new one?
I can only speak to my experience, being a twenty-two year old having just launched my first magazine, ALL-IN, with my friend, Allison Littrell. When we decided to launch the publication a year ago, there was no practical reason to start a print magazine. We started ALL-IN because we felt like we had something to say, and a magazine felt like the authentic way of expressing our message.
Everyone has heard that print is dead. Print magazines almost all have robust digital presences, and some have reduced their printing cycles or disappeared entirely. Digital publications have clear business models - less production cost and infinite advertising potential. There's usually no cost to readers, so one could potentially reach millions of people around the world instantly. If you're reading this article, you're engaging in a digital publication and already know this.Growing up in the 21st century, I have always felt alienated by digital culture. Representing my thoughts and being online has felt too close to real life, yet frustratingly distanced from it. Masahiro Mori describes this sensation in his essay "The Uncanny Valley," which states that one's response to digital beings is dependent on how lifelike they appear. The "uncanny valley" is where a being appears almost human, but isn't, causing one to reject it.
In The Travel Almanac 9, Collier Schorr speaks on photography, "What's next? CGI ads that move? Something like a Harry Potter book, where you open the magazine and suddenly there's a hologram? … after you've spent all that time and money, and you went all over the place, in the end all you want to do is find Earth, go home and have a sandwich. So that's where I come in." There are already magazines pointing towards their version of the future - AnOther magazine released the first magazine with a digital cover this year - and we're representing what we think it means to be alive now. I find that to look forward, most of the time one needs to look towards the past.
We started ALL-IN as a print publication for that reason. While there are amazing things about being able to reach people around the world at any given moment, we wanted a direct connection with our audience - to step backwards.
We live in an age of instant gratification. I'm a member of a generation which has lived most of their lives expecting everything for free now. Personally, I think this is an issue. Nothing is free - everything has a cost, whether it's hidden or transparent. Websites conceal those costs more easily than print magazines; you can see and feel the cost of a magazine, while we've been conditioned to assume digital as free. Through consumer data collected by websites, and the passive consumption of branded content and subliminal advertising, online browsers unconsciously enter the market economy and become commodities without consent.
A print object also feels more timeless and solid than online content. We assume that what exists on the Internet will be there forever. This isn't true. Cory Arcangel discussed this in ALL-IN while reflecting on early websites, "It's funny to see sites from that era because they all show up so small now since monitors used to show only six hundred forty pixels. The sites looked really big then but now they're literally shrinking on the Internet." The Internet's architecture will become outdated and eventually decay.
This relates to our experience viewing the Internet - one scrolls the Internet searching for something of value to us. Often, this content doesn't exist or isn't immediately available, as it's among a sea of endless information - we become dissatisfied. When one holds a printed publication, a few parameters are set: time, a relationship to physical space, and an intention for that object. There's immediate value.
We wanted to create a publication that had intention. While there are many printed magazines which have nothing to say, and many digital publications with a lot to say (i-D is on this list), we had to set out on our mission the best way available to us. As two people in their early twenties, with school and jobs on the side, we wouldn't have been able to produce content of value every hour, day, or week. What seemed authentic to us was to start a bi-annual publication. That's how we started ALL-IN - with the idea that having something to say and a way to say it, we can make a difference.