KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Books and Writing

The great old media revival

by Imogen , February 4, 20132 Comments

Image credit: Connor Tomas O'Brien

Have you heard of ‘dancing the flip-flop’? Robin Sloan defines it as ‘the process of pushing a work of art or craft from the physical world to the digital world and back again’. Sloan’s argument is that the best artists and makers are those who can seamlessly move between the digital and physical worlds, instead of restricting themselves to one or the other. Digital thinking can inform physical thinking, and vice versa.

We’ve long been conditioned to believe that technological change involves moving away from the physical world, turning real stuff into code. Books become ebooks. Film negatives become RAW files. Magazines become iPad apps, or blogs, or they just die. Videos become DVDs become transient streaming bits.

Lately, though, I’ve been noticing something, and I think the flip-flop partially explains it. ‘Old media’ is back! We’re living in a second golden age of real books and magazines and records.

If you can cast your mind back to 2009, you’ll remember it was probably the worst year for old media in recent history. By July of 2009, 105 newspapers had died, and by December 367 magazines had ceased publishing (this was actually down from 573 magazines closing in 2007, though the magazines that were terminated in 2009 included classics like I.D., Giant, and Gourmet). It was in 2009 that RedGroup, owner of Borders Australia and Angus & Robertson, began to fail, Blockbuster was less than a year away from filing for bankruptcy, and in the UK, independent bookstores closed at a rate of two a week.

Let’s fast-forward. In 2012, 82 magazines closed… but, holy crap, in just the first half of last year, 133 magazines launched! In the US, about 28 indie bookstores closed last year, but over 40 real world, bricks-n-mortar stores opened.

Here’s what I think has happened: we are now living in a flip-flop culture. In 2009, we weren’t. Back then, we believed that digital would destroy physical. In physical we noticed only limitation, and in digital we noticed only possibility.

In 2010, the iPad was introduced and the Kindle became mainstream. If 2009 was the worst year for old media, 2010 was probably the best for digital. Over the proceeding couple of years, we transitioned to Radio and Netflix and Newsstand and iBooks. But when you reach the point at which you can access anything on one device, something strange happens: you don’t think it’s amazing anymore. Once everything is immediate and virtually free and just one click away, there’s nowhere left to go. The possibilities of digital having been exhausted, you begin to realise what you’ve lost.

I think we’ll look back on 2012 as the year of ambivalence, the year in which we started to understand the nature of flip-flopping. A flip-flop culture is one in which digital is not positioned against physical, but in which we’ve learnt how to create cultural products and experiences in which the two are intertwined. We made our culture digital, and now we are going to work out how to place it in the world again, to make the digital physical.

When I visited Brooklyn last month, I kept being told I had to visit Video Free Brooklyn. It’s a video rental store with the tagline, ‘Video stores didn’t die, they just had to evolve.’ Aaron Hillis, who bought Video Free last year, is a flip-flopper. In the Wall Street Journal, he said that his store is for those who live in ‘a post-Netflix age and…see that technology is not perfect. He uses tools like crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to enable his community to help him improve the store. He’s positioned Video Free as a supplement to streaming platforms like Netflix, consciously considering how to provide a different kind of value.

The new breed of magazines and publishers and booksellers (and video store owners!) will succeed because they understand what they’re getting themselves into. If you want to start a print magazine or bookstore today, you don’t just follow the old template, because the old template no longer makes sense. Instead, you begin by considering how your product or business can offer something that nothing online can. In other words, you learn from digital in order to improve the physical. And you work out how to transfer what you’ve learnt from working physically to your digital practice.

Kai Brach was a web designer before starting Offscreen, a print magazine about ‘pixel people’. Brach makes 90% of all Offscreen sales through his website: he’s made digital serve physical. In creating the magazine, he’s also come to recognise more clearly the ‘ephemerality of digital’. Other magazines, like Kinfolk and Kill Screen and Lucky Peach, are creating print experiences that couldn’t exist without the web.

There’s so much more to say about flip-flop culture and the new/old media revival. And the Kill Your Darlings blog, of course, is a perfect place to write about it. Here, you’re right in the middle of flip-flop territory.

 

Connor Tomas O’Brien is a Killings columnist. An Adelaide-based web designer, he’s currently working on a PhD in the form of a novel exploring the intersection between text adventure games, cults, and Facebook. He’s the co-founder of the ebookstore platform Tomely.




  • http://www.iamverybusyandimportant.net Sophie

    YES! I completely agree. In my own small-scale experience, most of the people who read my zine have discovered it via my blog, social media and other assorted internet channels. People who think it’s a two-sided war are wrong.

  • Pingback: Flip-Flopping To Phew | Boomerang Books Blog

West Bank

David Donaldson

Whitewashing occupation? Bill Shorten and the Israel Lobby

Racism and military occupation have no place in the modern world, and are certainly not something looked upon favourably by a majority of Australians. Yet while apartheid, for example, has become a byword for shame and racism, the Labor Opposition leader feels comfortable asserting that some Israeli West Bank settlements are legal. Read more »

Tony Abbott

David Donaldson

Abbott and Brandis’ culture war backfires

What is supposed to happen in a culture war is that conservatives use a controversial issue to drive a ‘wedge’ through the left, forcing a split between factions. In Australia, this usually means pitting Catholic unionists against their socially liberal colleagues in the Labor party. Read more »

climate change

David Donaldson

Australia is going backwards on climate policy

During the Howard years, it was usual for Australia to be awarded ‘Fossil of the Day’ by climate advocacy groups whenever it attended a climate negotiation conference. The award signifies the country that had done the most to hinder climate change negotiations, and Australia has won a pile of them. Read more »

Zoe Pilger

Carody Culver

Girls, eat your hearts out

Middle class hipsters, conceptual artists and third-wave feminists have long been easy targets for mockery, so I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything too groundbreaking when I picked up Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, a satirical romp through contemporary London that reads like a surreal mash-up of Broad City, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Less Than Zero. Read more »

Laika, Astronaut Dog

Carody Culver

Houston, we have a fabrication

As someone who doesn’t have children, I’m no less resistant than any of my book-loving friends-with-kids to the charm of a beautiful picture book. So when I spotted Laika: Astronaut Dog by writer and illustrator Owen Davey, with its charming retro-style artwork Read more »

& Sons

Carody Culver

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby Read more »

American Pickers

Julia Tulloh

Eccentric junk collectors held high on American Pickers

The History Channel’s American Pickers, currently in its sixth season, is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable reality series on TV. It’s not a competition show, it doesn’t exist to objectify people and it isn’t particularly dramatic. So what’s the appeal? Read more »

Justin Timberlake

Julia Tulloh

Pleasantly forgettable: Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience

On 7 March this year, tickets went on sale for the Australian leg of Justin Timberlake’s latest tour, ‘The 20/20 Experience’. All five shows sold out in a few hours. The same day, five new shows were released, with most tickets for these rapidly selling out too. Read more »

BuzzFeed

Julia Tulloh

BuzzFeed quizzes understand me

If you use social media regularly – Facebook, in particular – you’ll have completed a BuzzFeed quiz during the past month. Don’t deny it. Even if you didn’t share your results online, deep down you’re still feeling smug because the ‘What Should You Actually Eat For Lunch?’ quiz confirmed that eating ice cream was, in fact, an appropriate meal for your personality type. Read more »

The Lego Movie

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Nostalgia and today’s family-friendly films

Hollywood has always known the adults are watching alongside the kids, and that to push a film into record profits (as Lego looks set to do with a global box office of $428 million and counting), you need to appeal to ‘kids of all ages’. Read more »

nympho-poster

Rochelle Siemiennowicz

Weirdos on screen: Noah and Nymphomaniac

There are some filmmakers you’ll follow into the dark, no matter how bad the buzz is about their latest work. For me, naughty boy Lars von Trier (The Idiots, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, Melancholia) and strange kid Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) are two filmmakers who can be loved or detested, but never ignored. Read more »

planes

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Notes from a plane

There’s an art to choosing the right film for every particular occasion, and as I nervously sit in a Qantas jet about to take off on a four-hour flight from Melbourne to Perth, the choice seems very important indeed. Read more »

Samsung fingers

Connor Tomas O'Brien

‘Fooled’ by technology

As I browsed the web last Tuesday, something struck me: tech companies can no longer pull off compelling April Fools’ Day hoaxes because there’s no longer even the thinnest line delineating sincerity from spoof. Read more »

wifi

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Flight 370 and gaps in the internet

On Twitter the other day, sandwiched between a slew of links to articles about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, somebody tweeted a link to the website for Tile, a Bluetooth-enabled device that can be attached to physical objects, enabling them to be located within a 150-foot range. Read more »

IMG_3267

Clipped: What would Susan Sontag say about always-on cameras?

As I write this, a tiny camera clipped to my shirt collar is silently taking a picture every thirty seconds. At the end of the day, I will plug my Narrative Clip into my MacBook, and it will upload half a gigabyte of images to the Cloud. … Read more »

Young Adulthood Books

Danielle Binks

The young adult books of my young adulthood

In March, Penguin Books Australia rereleased Melina Marchetta’s first novel as part of its Australian Children’s Classics series. Looking for Alibrandi was first published in 1992; the first print run sold out in two months, and Marchetta’s debut went on to win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year Award. Read more »

When You Reach Me

Danielle Binks

A children’s lit prize of one’s own

Earlier this year, Readings Bookstore announced the creation of The Readings Children’s Book Prize. The eligibility criteria for the 2014 Prize was specified as ‘a work of published fiction, written for children aged 5–12’. Read more »

The Fault with a Sick-Lit Debate (1)

Danielle Binks

The fault with a sick-lit debate

American author John Green’s young adult (YA) novel The Fault in Our Stars has been a bestselling juggernaut since its release in 2012. Green’s book was somewhat inspired by his friendship with Esther Earl, whose posthumous memoir This Star Won’t Go Out was released in January this … Read more »

music theory

Chad Parkhill

Do music critics need music theory?

Canadian musician Owen Pallett – the man who arranged the strings on Arcade Fire’s albums, co-wrote the soundtrack for Spike Jonze’s Her, and has a bunch of wonderful solo albums – can now add another feather to his cap: that of an engaging music writer. Read more »

Tune Yards

Chad Parkhill

Drips, leaks, and spurts

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track … Read more »

Grandma photoshop

Chad Parkhill

Singing out

My maternal grandmother, Merilai Lilburn, recently died in a nursing home in Katikati, New Zealand, of complications arising from pneumonia. She was 82 years old. At the time of her death, I and the other members of our extended family based in Australia Read more »

Community

Stephanie Van Schilt

Diary of a lurker: TV and Twitter

At the end of last month, global information provider Nielsen announced that Australia was to become the third country in the world with the ‘Nielsen TV Twitter Ratings’ service. According to a Nielsen Company press release, the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings are ‘the first-ever measure of the total activity and reach of TV-related conversation on Twitter’. Read more »

Broad City

Stephanie Van Schilt

Funny Broads

‘All comparisons between Girls and Broad City should be hereto forth banned from the internet.’ I agree with Katherine Brooks. Yet the comparisons continue, ad nauseam, mostly following one of two lines of thought. Read more »

The Carrie Diaries

Stephanie Van Schilt

‘Alive Girl’ TV: The Carrie Diaries

Get ready to feel old: it’s been ten years since the final episode of Sex and the City aired. I’m not talking about the first episode back in 1998, but the final episode – the one before the two questionable movies were released. Read more »