The future of digital

Before we speculate on the future of print, it is necessary to review what we know of the future of digital as its nominal competitor.
As of the second week of January, 2014, Target in the U.S. was warning that a security breach had compromised the digital records of over 110 million people, to include financial information, credit card information and PINs. High-end retailer Neiman-Marcus was concurrently attacked, with similar losses to an unknown number of customers. While consumers have always been told they would suffer no individual losses, common sense dictates there is a limit to what can be written off or excused. The system is clearly vulnerable.
The vulnerability of digital files was further exposed in the Snowden and Assange affairs.
It is hard to overstate the importance of these digital weaknesses. For a reporter investigating drug cartels, pornography, corruption or other matters of importance, he or she must be aware that his or her digital fingerprints will be all over every search performed, either as background or primary sourcing. Further, if discovered, it could be fatal.
Similarly, we have recently learned that any e-mail transfer in the world both can be and probably is recorded and archived. We cannot keep anonymous sources safe.
For the magazine reader, not writer, the same threat exists. Some people subscribe to websites or magazines to gather information. As noted above, those could be reporters seeking information on graft, gangs or child abuse. For many such reporters, their presence on a drug blog may be for reasons opposed to drugs, but represented, if discovered, as the opposite.
Also, magazine digital editions can be hacked, and words changed, viruses embedded and lists compromised. Today, people spend a great deal of time protecting themselves against digital incursion by spam, viruses, pop-up ads, cyber-tracking and so on…. The value of the internet has not met its promises. Instead of understanding focus, some energetic marketer associated target audience with a firing range and it’s been downhill ever since. Bomb them with spam, hit them with pop-ups, monitor their lives, intercept their searches …. And then expect them to thank you for the attention. It is small wonder magazines are in trouble, and this is the crux of the matter: how have magazines fared in terms of value over the past 20 years, and why?
Print magazines are not without blame in assessing their loss of value. The public regards journalists at the bottom of the social ladder with used car salesmen and lawyers. Interestingly, both of those professions are reviled for their loose association with the truth.
The issue of credibility goes back to the beginning of time. At the foundation of communication is truth. When Oog told Oona to run because there was a bear, Oona needed to worry less about whether and more about where. This was not a time for one of Oog’s jokes.
Deception, or the distortion of truth, was no stranger, even in the beginning. Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War in the 6th Century B.C., makes the point that all warfare is based on deception. Deception is something humans do. However, on some level there must be truth. For example, for us to learn from Sun Tzu, we need to believe he is telling the truth about the value of deception.
Since magazines are using deception to trick trusting audiences, such as with bought editorial and native ads, they are obliged to study the reaction and accept responsibility. If the audience’s reaction is rejection, it does not really matter that the accountable advertiser’s reaction is positive. He only lost a sale, but the magazine lost its reputation. If so, that would account for the fall in social standing of journalists from protectors of freedom to paid, professional liars.
Back to the question. If the Gutenberg Bible were published digitally, by now it would bear no resemblance to the original. Being it’s in print, you can take it as gospel. It has moral credibility.
Having established that digital publishing is mutable, lacks confidentiality, strips privacy and perverts honesty, and having established that print is permanent, credible and also subject to dishonesty, it seems easy to predict which will exist if the wishes of the readers prevail. Put back the trust, and print is a winner. Digital will never regain trust.
It is fiscally a fact that the value of magazines has declined significantly since the era of consolidation of single titles. It is widely held that digital competition is at fault. One wonders, however, whether digital is the problem, or whether it’s just a visible symptom of decay.
However, those that sell what-ifs and fantasies, whether it’s a IPO in the ‘90s, a spam list in the ‘80s, a social program in the 2000s or a tweet dream today, they have to sell something or they die. If print is a competitor and stops them from selling, then print becomes a target, not a resource.
What you see, then, is an army of marginally employed advocates pumping digital, which is not even a medium, but a format, and ignoring such critical barometers of audience value as real circulation from people that want the magazine, reader approval, original content and authority.
Digital is not tough enough to kill print, so, over time, print will prevail. In the interim, digital will continue to cut rates, sell trust, deny facts, rewrite history and attack reports. What else is its choice?

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