Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Print as Vinyl: Not just for hipsters anymore

Aug. 12, 2011, 3:35 p.m., Posted by John Bracken

John Bracken

John Bracken

A comment I made yesterday ("Print could be the new vinyl") at the Asian American Journalists Association conference in Detroit stirred up a good bit of chatter on Twitter.  I suppose it's only appropriate that after I touted the value of Twitter as a new storytelling platform,  I saw its limitations up-close. Twitter worked to collect some interesting and funny reactions, some of them collected by Julie Moos. But I need more than 140 characters to flesh out what I meant.

The metaphor came to made during a "lighting round" that Richard Liu threw at us at the end of our panel on journalism sustainability models. Richard asked each of us to give a thumbs up or down on the trajectory of different media topics: UGC, Twitter, broadcast and print. Here is some of what was on my mind when Richard asked for a + or - on print:

  • Earlier that morning I'd noticed Kyle Kim's tweet touting his examination of the Detroit newspapers' printing "scale back" nearly 2-and-a-half years later. The tweet prompted me to pick up the AAJA's print publication on the way to the panel. As I did so, I realized how rarely I pick up physical newspapers.

  • I was also thinking about Longshot Magazine, the Knight-Batten Award winning experiment in publication started by Mat Honan, Alexis Madrigal and Sarah Rich. (I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of my print copy of Issue 2- Debt.) Every few months, Longshot volunteers "create a magazine start to finish in the space of 48 hours."

  • Third, I've been carrying around and touting an amazing map of Wilkinson Bay, Louisiana printed by 2011 News Challenge winner Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. Public Lab recently launched its Grassroots Mapping Forum, "a community research journal/archive/zine/map, where we hope to share ideas, techniques, and stories from the Grassroots Mapping community."

  • Lastly, earlier in the week I had a conversation about an exciting web-to-print venture. It may not come to pass, and if does it may not work -- but keep your eyes on this space for a possible experiment in that zone.

In the ensuing discussion, the notion of "newspapers for hipsters" took hold. Julie Moos asked, "So Newspapers are for hipsters?" in the title of her Storify summary of the "print as vinyl" discussion. Now I don't hate on Williamsburg (not any more than anyone else), but I think it's important to point out that records are not just for hipsters anymore.  From their near-death at the hands of CDs, records have seen an increase in popularity in recent years. (In hip-hop, of course, vinyl never died; in punk the 7-inch has been vibrant since the early 90s, at least.) My local chain record store, not a hipster zone, sports posters touting vinyl in its windows. Records sales are up in the UK (55% in first half of 2011) and the US, according to USA Today:

Vinyl was the fastest-growing musical format in 2010, with 2.8 million units sold, the format's best year since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.

Albums possess a physicality against which digitial cannot compete. Bands like Radiohead and lables like Touch and Go have recognized that vinyl encourages exclusivity, maximizes design potential and creates a depth of involvement that 0s and 1s cannot.  Vinyl's renaissance is not due to nostalgia -- it's due to the fact that musicians, labels and fans have built a creative and consumer experience based on what the format does well.  

I don't want to beat this metaphor to death. Here's the core of the comparison: as more and more of the content we consume is based on bits, the ability to engage with atom-based media will, for some, gain value.  

Now it's time for me to go off and buy that turntable my wife's been pining for.