If you are actually holding the print edition of this Journal in your hands as you read this, you may be part of a growing minority. While sales for printed publications continue to drop, sales of e-books and digital tablets (such as the iPad and Nook) are growing rapidly. Studies show that in the U.S., 35 percent
of all adults now own a smart phone and spend an average of 33 hours a week online. The writing isn't on the wall—it's on
the screens of smart phones, Kindles and laptops everywhere. But while there are those who mourn the decline of print,
many visual artists are busy celebrating the new opportunities presented by digital platforms.
The world of comics is at the forefront of this revolution, and at SVA, two current BFA Illustration and Cartooning seniors are leading the charge. In the fall of 2011, Amedeo Turturro and Trent Thompson launched INK, the world's first 100 percent student-run, exclusively digital comics publication; it is available as a free iPad app at iTunes. Published twice a year, INK focuses primarily on showcasing the work of students from across SVA's comics community alongside that of alumni and faculty, and provides students with the real-world experience of publishing their work.
For Turturro and Thompson, the decision to make INK an all-digital publication was a no-brainer. "With digital, you aren't restrained by the production limitations of print, such as the color range of ink on a page," says Turturro. "Also, in print there are a lot of issues you can run into with the final product, that, as the creator, you can't fully control. For example, plates can shift, paper can expand or contract, the printer or distributor can lose your publication, the printer's machines can break down." There's also the issue of cost—publishing digitally is significantly less expensive than mass-duplicating paper pages.
But perhaps most importantly to Turturro is the ease of accessibility that digital publishing allows. "At any moment, a person has the ability to get and read INK, at whatever time of day they want no matter where they are," he says. "Your audience isn't restricted by geographical location. It doesn't matter if there isn't a bookstore or a comics convention near them."
Comics giants such as Marvel and DC have been
publishing digital comics for several years now, and Marvel recently starting releasing digital and print publications simultaneously. What's exciting for Turturro and Thompson is that
now even a young publication like INK has the same chance
of reaching a mass audience as publishers that have been around for decades. "Everyone has the same opportunity and tools at their disposal," says Thompson. "In digital, the only thing restricting you from telling your story in the best possible manner is you, the creator."
While the transition from print to digital may make sense for a medium like comics (comic books have traditionally been printed on low-quality paper and inexpensively priced), the switch for publications at the other end of the spectrum may seem less obvious. Take art books, for instance, which generally are expensive, large-format, "coffee table" books printed on heavy stock.
When asked how he would respond to print purists who argue that digital viewing can't compare with the tactile experience of reading a hardbound book, Julius Wiedemann, executive editor of design and director of digital publications for art book publisher Taschen, says, "I think they are right." But he's also optimistic that both print and digital can live together harmoniously. "Hard copies might become more rare, but they will entail more value as well," says Wiedemann. "The irony is that we used to take printed books for granted. Now, we
are exercising all our creativity to make them more attractive, using special colors, different materials, innovative formats
For the kind of publications that Taschen produces, the digital format also offers some distinct advantages. "We
do a lot of heavy, highly illustrated books, which also have a lot of text content," Wiedemann says. "Some books are hard to read in bed, for example, and the digital format is a perfect alternative." Going digital also allows users to carry multiple titles on one device. But no matter what the format, one thing remains the same: "The key thing, in my opinion, is content," says Wiedemann, "and we now have the opportunity of reinventing the way we enjoy it."
With the transition from print to digital comes another key change—the role of the publisher. "Digital publishing allows us to think about content in a completely different way," says Wiedemann. "We can have a narrative that is not linear anymore." And this type of interaction will continue to evolve. "The control over the content will be divided between the user and the publisher. We become more mediators, and producers of a curated experience," he says.
Not only are users engaging with digital content in different ways, more and more people are viewing content across various platforms—on smart phones, on tablets, and on laptops. For designers, this spells tremendous opportunity. In the current semester, the MFA Design Department added a program called Digital Publishing to its curriculum. Led by Scott Dadich, vice president, content innovation at Condé Nast, and Wyatt Mitchell, creative director of The New Yorker (the first person to hold that title in the history of the publication),
students are trained on the same design system and platform that Condé Nast uses to digitally publish its magazines.
"Design matters more than it ever has," says Dadich. "It used to be that production values held as much sway as the design itself of, say, a print magazine—the cover stock, the quality of the paper, the printing. All of that contributed to the overall aesthetic qualities or desirability of a magazine. But now that everyone's on the iPad, everyone is suddenly unified, so a weekly magazine that used to be printed on crappy paper is now competing against a Vanity Fair that's always been printed on beautiful, high-gloss stock."
Also, the concept of what a "magazine" is has changed. Digital versions feature dynamic elements such as Twitter feeds, live content and scrolling text, as well as audio, video and slide shows—all of which need to be designed for screens of various sizes. "Just because the headline is at the top of the page in print doesn't necessarily mean that's where the headline should be in the digital edition," says Dadich. "And we really encourage and promote the idea that design has to hue to the form it's being prepared for, and that's why putting PDFs of print magazines onto tablets was never part of our aim [at Condé Nast] and really an inferior reading experience. This is about creating content that is ideally suited for the output on which it's going to be viewed."
With more and more people turning to digital devices for their media fixes, something else is on the rise as well—the demand for skilled designers. "Every magazine has positions to fill to create digital content," says Dadich. "Our industry has gone from a constriction in the recession of having to lay people off and scale down in size to the opposite effect, where we can't hire designers fast enough because there are so many new platforms and opportunities for this kind of storytelling—there's never been a better time to be a designer." ∞