Digital is dead—long live print!

Digital is dead—long live print!

Maybe you’ve seen the headlines: digital media is in trouble. Many behemoth platforms—Vice, Paper Magazine, Buzzfeed News—are finished. Social media feeds are constantly lighting up with newly laid off writers, editors, and designers looking for work. It’s a mess.

We can’t tell you how this ends, but we can tell you what it might start: a resurgence in print.

Broccoli works in print because we believe that time spent with print objects has spiritual value.

We grew up with books, we made and traded zines, we went to the library for fun. We made collages and filled notebooks with sprawling ideas, stickers, and dreamed of what it might be like to work in the fancy world of magazines. We really do like to curl up with a magazine or book, pretending for a moment that our phones don’t exist. We love working with artists and writers from around the world, offering a space to explore ideas that would rarely be commissioned for a website. We look at the growing pile of Broccoli publications and feel grateful that there are enough people out there who appreciate our vision, who can see the value in everything from a giant magazine about mushrooms to a book about a snail living in a tiny world. You get it.

A thoughtfully-made magazine is more than just a bunch of paper. It can be a portal, one with expansive potential that unfolds with every story and image. It keeps you away from your screens. It surprises you. It puts people and ideas in front of you that you’ve never seen before. It gives you an object of substance, one that you can come back to at your leisure, or pass along to a friend.

Internet media can’t offer this sense of longevity or clarity of value. In this age of hyper-personalized algorithms, it’s almost rare to be surprised by anything online, let alone find something new that you actually want to spend time with (this is why TikTok is so addictive: there are always surprises at a rapid-fire pace). For media platforms, the feedback loop of similarity is inescapable, with every organization trying to get the clickiest, fastest coverage of any minor or major cultural event. Everything is instantly old news. Few articles are created for the pleasure of the reader. In contrast, a magazine can be an elegant machine for spending some open-ended but fruitful time with yourself. You may not like everything you read between the covers, but it can put you in touch with something outside yourself. From the consumer perspective, print is still a clear exchange: You pay money for a physical object, a tangible product, one that you can keep in your home for years.

Moreover, print is a medium designed to be edited. Editors are human, idiosyncratic guides, weaving together ideas into a unique collection for curious readers. Online, someone (or something) else is in charge: the machine that defines a maze of algorithms, click-through rates, affiliate links, paywall conversions, and other analytical data points. Analytics usurped the role of editorial teams, stripping them of their creative instincts and best ideas. Now, they’re expected to publish more of the same, more of what supposedly sells, more of what we already see everywhere else. Major, mainstream publishers are in thrall to data, but one of the joys of independent publishing is that we aren’t. We have true editorial freedom, and we are blissfully unaware of a lot of the analytics that digital media uses to define their content.

On our side, we know how many magazines we sell, and we know when you write to us and tell us what you did or didn’t like, but beyond that, it’s none of our business. We can’t track what you buy. We don’t know which article you read five times. We can’t serve you customized ads (though we do work with like-minded brands who suit our pages), and we don’t get paid when you buy something that you saw in our publication. If you’re willing to trust us to give you interesting stories, in exchange you receive the experience of being free from the sticky tendrils of the web. You’re also likely to receive evergreen stories (a term we use in publishing that means the story remains interesting over time, just like trees that stay green all year long), allowing you to take a slow, deep inhale of information and ideas while experiencing writing and art that have been given time to marinate.

And contrary to popular reports, print never died. While many glossy mainstream titles have shuttered, indie magazines have been quietly and consistently reimagining the medium. Chances are, there’s a clever and beautiful magazine out there right now that you’d really enjoy. It might take some work to find them (the woes of the antiquated book and magazine distribution system in North America is a subject for another day), but they are out there. And here’s where we say, if you enjoy a magazine, subscribe to it. At Broccoli, money from subscriptions flows out to a loose network of artists, designers, writers, editors, and others working across the world, and it’s what makes it possible for us to make the products that delight you, whether it’s something we put months of work to make, like a collectible book, or an Instagram post that we think you’ll enjoy each morning.

Okay, you might say. But what about the money? Publishing isn’t known for being a get-rich-quick (or ever?) industry. Broccoli doesn’t have a secret trust fund or investor backing—we really like our independence—but we are here to say that you can build a sustainable business around print. By growing slowly and with a lot of careful intention, backed by the support of readers, fans, and the brands that we partner with on advertising, we’re able to keep the lights on, pay everyone we work with (and try to nudge those rates up whenever we can), and along the way, we get to create meaningful, professional opportunities for so many writers and artists who may not find them elsewhere. You know that saying: You get what you pay for? It’s true. When we send you a book or a magazine or an oracle deck, we’re trying to model a more honest exchange: a fair price for something beautiful, something tangible, something that doesn’t take more than it gives, and something that makes sure other folks get paid and taken care of, too. We are trying to create a healthy, sustainable ecosystem that extends beyond us and sprawls outward to our collaborators, too.

Print can’t solve everything, but supporting this medium means supporting thoughtfulness, intention, creativity, consideration, and the longevity of all of these things.

Reading a magazine is a gift to yourself in the moment, and a gift to whoever might end up with your copy in the future. Maybe you pass it to a friend, or a family member. Maybe it sits on your coffee table or bookshelf, pulled out when something reminds you of a favorite story. The longer you have it, the more it becomes a time capsule of creativity, and of a moment in time. Years from now it might end up at a garage sale, a thrift store, or a used bookstore. Someone slowly pawing over print will pick it up, and find themselves transported. Magazines and books don’t come and go: they teleport timelessly. Join us for the journey, and be part of the next media revolution.

Print never died; long live print!

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