Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So Far, No Information Model Beats Print Because ...

A really excellent blog post by Bruce Hendrickson addressed the certain death of print publications – trade magazines, specifically.

No denying Bruce is right, and he hit upon something that’s been troubling Marketing Brillo for some time. With print evaporating into the ether, what will become of information communications generally, and business communications specifically?

At this point, major newspapers are the only business communicators who seem to be “getting it right.” Perhaps that's because communicators like The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times are on-screen replicas of their print selves (only better). How so?

At major online newspaper sites, information presentation features the layout readers love. Like their print counterparts, the information is categorized under easy-to-find tabs and indices. Articles have bylines and terse headlines; they are carefully researched and full of facts, parsed interviews, and background references. Articles are beautifully written and as long as they need to be. Best of all, articles proceed from an understandable point A, to a conclusive Point B. Truly .. can we yet say the same for most electronic publications?

Reality is, electronic newsletters and publications, generally, are still climbing all over themselves to figure out what they should look like. Should they be one short email with two-sentence headers, linked to a longer article? Should they offer the first paragraph, and then link? Should they have photos or no photos? Should they include “read more” jumps or not? Nobody knows for sure, because nobody agrees.

In addition to going electronic, some organizations are eschewing editorial totally, and switching to video to communicate with readers. Have you ever watched the stuff some of these videophiles are putting out? For one thing – unlike journalists who make it their living to write well -- the people featured in videos are generally amateurs in front of a camera... which means their thinking may be fuzzy and the content may not get to the point quickly enough. Moreover, from the title and the intro (which is usually infused with upfront advertising), you don’t have any idea whether the content will be good, bad, or horrible. In fact, until you’ve already invested time, there’s no gauging the value of what’s “in there” at all. Not so, with The New York Times. In fact, not so with any print publication. These you can evaluate in a glance.

I hope I’m not one of the ‘monkey-fisted” folks Bruce was talking about in his article. I know he's right about the future of high-overhead print: It’s the old architecture and it’s going to crumble.

What I am saying is that nobody -- yet -- has certainty what the new architecture should look like. In figuring that out, I hope we analyze carefully the underlying value that most information seekers find in print.

Stats do report that people, generally, are watching more video every day. But, when people want informed opinion, apparently, they still are reading gray matter like Wikipedia and online newspapers and blogs – especially blogs. They also are searching out hefty online articles and white papers—the stuff that’s not necessarily pretty, or short, or entertaining … but IS where the content meets the seeker.

Personally, Marketing Brillo loves the “thumbability” of print. For busy people, that must surely be a key feature of any new information architecture. Digital magazines are very good at allowing readers to quickly flip through content, so perhaps there's a model there.

Entertainment is a whole different subject, of course. But, if information and analysis are the point, well, the easy-digest that’s trending now may not work so well in the long-term. As we adopt the new architecture, I'm betting (hoping) we'll figure out how to include some elements of the 550-plus-year old print model.

p.s. In the meantime, check out what print can still do to knock off your socks.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

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