Print Isn't Dead (But It's On Life Support)
Print Isn't Dead
(But It's On Life Support)
By Erin Spens
Just a couple years after the economic crash of 2008, when many magazines were going digital-only, I decided to start a printed travel publication. It was obviously not a sound business decision but more of a personal one. Over my years of working multiple jobs and eating ramen noodles in order to fund my travel habit, I learned firsthand how much I didn’t know about the rest of the world, and how badly we need access to different perspectives from other cultures. I decided my publication – Boat Magazine – would start to fill that gap city-by-city, through stories told with and by locals directly from the streets.
We started off in Sarajevo to tell stories beyond the siege, we went to Detroit to look past the “ruin porn” and more towards the people that make Detroit so strong, in London we went deep into the subcultures and ethnic pockets to talk about its incredible multiculturalism. As our audience grew, we put out another issue, and then another one.
From the outside looking in, I guess it looks like Boat Magazine is a little bit of a success story in the world of independent printed media. We’ve been going now for almost seven years, each issue (in my opinion) has improved on the last one, we’ve included the most incredible contributors from Jeffrey Eugenides and Nick Hornby, to Mario Testino and an atomic bomb survivor.
But things look a little different from the inside.
I’m the only full-time employee working on Boat and I use the terms “full-time” and “employee” very loosely. I work freelance jobs every week to pay the bills, and my Boat work fits in around those jobs – early mornings, late nights, and weekends. I don’t take a salary from the magazine because it isn’t technically profitable. If we make any money on an issue, it gets put towards the printing costs of the next one. Boat’s business model is inherently flawed when it comes to attracting advertisers – we change focus and geographic location every issue, we only put out two per year, and we cover an incredibly broad range of topics. If I’m totally honest, after every issue has been launched and shipped and the office (my living room) settles down a bit, I question if I have it in me to make another one.
The stories inside each issue of Boat Magazine are what keep the heart of the operation beating. Second to the stories is my love of print – the significance of ink on paper, the way it smells, how it feels, the weight it brings to whatever you find on the pages, the necessity (and dying art) of the role of an editor in a world where information free-flows from every device and screen and mouth around us.
In 2017, printed media doesn’t make sense, and I think that is exactly why we need it. I don’t know what the answer is, because I’m certainly not going to preach about how people should start buying physical magazines again. But I’m also not ready to give up on them either. In the end, only time will determine what of our culture we carry forward into the future, and what we decide to let go of.