The future of digital media: Or you could call them “books”

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As I was getting ready to send the twelfth issue of Taking the Lane to print, a friend forwarded this fascinating article about the future of digital media, storytelling, longform journalism, or whatever they’re calling it this week. One quotation jumped out at me:

“The reading experience is built on long-form content, delivered to the right audience — a public thirsty for it — primarily via mobile devices and wrapped in a delightfully uncomplicated user experience. It represents the minimal viable product, an experience that’s satisfying precisely because it’s both tailored and trimmed, a product that includes no extraneous or dubiously useful features. It fits its context and purpose naturally, like a glove.”

Sound familiar? I read a lot of blogs and articles online, and a few ebooks, but my strong preference is still the uncomplicated user experience of consuming media on “mobile devices” made of digitally-prepared, glued-together paper, and that’s still my preferred mode. Not to get all romantic about print books, but everything in this article does suggest that the traditionally printed book is, if nothing else, still an economically viable publishing model.

And that’s been exactly my experience as a publisher. Sure, the book industry is changing fast—and as a result it’s necessary to get creative. As a print publisher, I’ve been turning to some of the same tactics that my all-digital colleagues use, like serial publications (aka this zine!), crowdfunding, and most of all keeping every part of the process simple, streamlined, and with very fast turnaround. I’m not yet making what anyone could call a profit, but this business which I’ve spent only a small portion of my time on for three years, pays for itself and grows with every new publication—and that’s not nothing.

In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that my business model might be more viable, relatively speaking, than I’m giving it credit for. Someone on Twitter last week chided venture capitalists for being interested only in digital publishing apps, and not in just-as-worthy zines. The idea tickled me—but honestly if someone came forward and wanted to make a massive investment in my company in exchange for partial ownership, I’d likely say no thanks. If many (not all) of these new digital formats require tens of thousands in capital up front to start, I think it’s too soon to say whether or not they are in fact the future of media.

The way I do business now has small (but growing) rewards, but also small (and diminishing) risks. It hasn’t happened yet, but if one of my Kickstarter projects doesn’t go through, I simply won’t publish that thing (or maybe I’d put it out as an ebook, who knows). My business model means I can’t scale up my production faster than I’m scaling up my audience, and even though my print runs are in the thousands I will never be stuck with a printing bill I can’t pay or a basement full of books that nobody wants to buy. My readers ARE my investors, and they are guaranteed a return on that investment and a voice in the editorial direction (most of my authors were readers/supporters first). It’s venture capitalism on a human scale, which is just how I like it.

Building a movement has always been the bigger goal. Sure, you can build a movement with an ebook, an information product, a longform multimedia piece, an ipad magazine… and many people have and are. Print is still a great tool for that too—and you don’t need to have national distribution and be on the shelves at the remaining big box bookstores to do so.

All that said—if you want to be part of one of the most exciting new hundreds-of-years-old trends in media, I urge you to take yourself over to Kickstarter and back Taking the Lane #12 (and jump on the cross-platform multi-media trend and pick up a download of the audio zine while you’re at it). It’s a good read, and I highly recommend it.

High fives and warm gratitude to Planet Bike and Bicycle Fixation for returning to sponsor Taking the Lane #12

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