x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The death of print is exaggerated

Google has either made our memories less important, knowing that it's easy to retrieve information online, or uncluttered our brains for the better.

In the age of too much information, one doesn't have to wait very long for the latest online survey to pitch up and predict the death of, well, pretty much everything.

Depending on your point of view, Google has either laid waste to our short-term memories by allowing us to dump information that we deem easy to retrieve online or decluttered and rewired our brains for the better. Likewise, it seems fairly clear that prolonged internet usage has killed our ability to concentrate for more than a few seconds before darting off on the next tangent that attracts (or distracts) our attention.

Furthermore, the widespread use of always-connected smartphones has wiped out almost any sense of priority in our lives. Don't believe it? See how long you can go without fiddling with your phone the next time that little red light starts flashing. Or think about how social and professional etiquette has crumbled to such a point that most of us now happily switch our mobiles to silent rather than switch them off entirely when we're sat in that important meeting or even spending some meaningful time with our families.

And then there is the whole death of print debate.

The internet, bringing with it the triple curse for print publishers of dwindling advertiser revenue, falling subscriber numbers and shrinking news stand sales, has proved a challenge too far for many hard-pressed media organisations. For the survivors, many continue to muddle through, a few prosper, while the industry outliers develop occasionally contrary responses to the prevailing conditions.

Earlier this year, David Lepeska reported for The Review on the relaunch of The Chicagoan, a long-forgotten literary journal that first emerged in the 1920s before withering less than a decade later as the harsh winds of the Great Depression swept across America.

The magazine's 21st-century rebirth delivered a 194-page, advertiser-free first issue that was chock full of long-form journalism (its headline piece was a 26,000-word feature on two film critics), literary fiction, essays and poetry. Lepeska described it as a "throwback publication in a throwaway age" and the magazine's initial print run sold out within days. Its second issue is due to hit the streets in November.

The Chicagoan arrived exquisitely packaged - a perfectly presented facsimile of its Jazz Age predecessor - and it would be easy to write off such a venture as a lone triumph for those who go against the grain (and dwindling word counts) in the most elegant way possible.

But it's not.

October 1 marks the publication of The American Reader, a new monthly magazine of literature specifically conceived to appeal to that nation's hard-to-impress Generation Y (25-35 year olds).

Like The Chicagoan, the Reader uses a masthead typeface that appears to lean heavily on another era and champions short fiction, essays and poetry, but that is where the comparisons largely end. The Reader will carry advertising, for instance, and will be published more frequently than its biannual Chicago equivalent.

Interested readers might well be advised to read Uzoamaka Maduka's strident and expansive introductory note to the magazine's hotly anticipated first issue to get a further taste of what to expect.

"We are neither what the talking heads say we are, nor what the media wants us to be: mindless tech-dilettantes with the attention spans of a fly; least among the generations in intellect, attention, humility and art," writes Maduka. The magazine, which hopes to export its format to Europe, also wishes to promote "a bolder, smarter conversation".

It is an ambitious and noble aim. The broader point here is that any talk of the death of print seems a little wide of the mark. Rather, we may be living in an era where print - albeit niche publishing - might actually begin to thrive again.

* Nick March