After new media turned the old-media world upside down, a couple of digital hipsters tilted their heads and gave analog a second look.
Ben Terrett and Russell Davies, of the European design firm Really Interesting Group (RIG), spoke this month in Boston at the Razorfish agency’s client summit. They were discussing their venture, Newspaper Club.
Their goal is to move “past digital infatuation and analog nostalgia” and into “the post-digital world.” They want us to recall the power of physical contact with tangible things, and to use the right tools for the right purposes. A friend had aggregated various readings from the Web into a book titled “Things I Would Rather Read on Paper.” The RIG boys saw this and realized computer screens are a “really terrible way to read,” and books and newspapers are “a fantastic technology for reading.”
They wondered about a friend’s blog post. It had generated a lot of buzz in their circle. And yet, at 8,000 words, they wondered if anyone had actually read it on the computer screen.
They discovered that their friend’s blog post would fit on a mere four tabloid newspaper pages and appeared far less intimidating in that format.
(This concentration of information per newspaper column inch makes me recall an old Walter Cronkite quote, that a nightly newscast is no more than a headline scan of a newspaper’s front page. And a search for that quote just now led me to this wonderful little article by Uncle Walt, “How to Read a Newspaper”
Anyway, they packaged all their friends’ best work on the Web and printed 1,000 copies of something titled “Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet 2008.” Every copy got snatched up. It was “magical,” they said, to see one’s blog post in ink-and-paper form.
They then created Newspaper Club in the U.K., with a tongue-in-cheek motto: “We have broken your business, now we want your machines.” Newspaper Club helps customers use idle press capacity to print student projects, wedding photo packages, you name it. They even printed a project for Wired magazine. They have VC backing and plan to open shop soon in the States.
As one of them says in their presentation to Razorfish (and if you like British humor, you’ll like these guys), most of the Internet feels like, “We’re inventing things to solve the problem that the last thing we invented caused.” It’s time, they say, to question the conventions of the computer screen. In a digital age, digital things are common – physical things are special.
This is all about the physical medium of the newspaper, obviously, and not about the journalism a printed page contains. Still, it’s a what’s-old-is-new-again moment.
As a newspaperman, I guess I should be mad that a couple of uber-hip Europeans had this too-late-for-many appreciation for the qualities of this thing – oh, so NOW you get it, do you? But I’m actually heartened. It shows there are many ways for old and new media to work side by side, in what the RIG guys call “a digital/analog mash-up.”