Mentions of The Revenge of Analog by David Sax had been popping up in my social media and newsfeeds on an occasional basis.
Sax covers the surprising resurgence of technologies and products once thought to be dead.
Vinyl records, film photography, the magazine… and there’s even a lengthy section on the iconic (yet now, woefully produced) Moleskine notebook.
(Trust me… there are far better options.)
Divided into two parts, “The Revenge Of Analog Things” and “The Revenge Of Analog Ideas,” I found the first part informative but the second part was far more fascinating.
I work in the print technology industry. For several years, industry pundits have been bemoaning the death of print. And yet, year after year, I continue to thrive and prosper because those who hesitated to embrace cutting edge technologies and evolving approaches to the business are now trying to catch up to the innovators.
True… those who remained steadfast in their obstinance are now starving or out of business. But those who have weathered the storm realize they need to provide their customers with something their competitors cannot.
There are now more publications than ever being produced. More books are being printed and consumed than ever before. The ebook did not kill the physical book.
Somehow, the printed magazine is thriving as well. Yes… run lengths (number of copies per edition) are far now far smaller… but there remains audiences for these publications. If you don’t believe me, try to find a first edition copy of Print Is Not Dead magazine. Or Cereal.
And then there is the rabidly loyal subscriber base of The Economist, whose print circulation grew from 1 million weekly in 2006 to 1.6 million in 2015… with an annual subscription price of $147.00 per year (as of this morning).
Tom Standage, The Economist’s deputy editor, explained why the magazine is thriving in the digital age.
Standage has a valid point. I’ve gravitated away from ebooks for a couple of reasons. The feeling of finishing something is primary. But I’m also finding I’m retaining more information from reading the printed page versus digital. I’m retaining more because I’m being… forced… to… slow… down. If I’m traveling and reading fiction, then I’m apt to use my Kindle. I don’t need the added weight of a book in my backpack. Past that, I’ve returned time and again to ink on paper.
As for magazines, I recently subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Bon Appetit, and Fine Cooking after spending an afternoon holding physical magazines and thumbing through the pages.
Is anyone really reading a magazine on a tablet?
For me, the format doesn’t work. The screen is too small and forces me to zoom in and out on the text and/or swipe around to move to different parts of the page. I don’t have to do that with paper. The tablet becomes heavy in the hand over time. Paper remains lightweight. The dream of the digital magazine is mostly fantasy.
In the chapter titled “The Revenge of Retail,” Sax covers the resurgence of the independent bookstore and how it is different from online retailers. I’ve got nothing against Amazon. I’m a tremendous fan of Amazon’s convenience and their rewards credit card. Both allow me to purchase that which I consider a want or luxury versus a need. But, one cannot replace the experience of an independent bookstore. Amazon’s algorithm for finding books one may be interested in reading is… well… it blows. But I know an independent bookstore owner or employee can usually put their finger on something intriguing.
This is perhaps why Barnes and Noble struggles against their rival. The value to the customer isn’t competing on price or selection. The value to the customer is the knowledge about the product and the guidance through the buying process. If I enjoyed reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (and I am enjoying it), I might be interested in other biographies… but not necessarily political biographies.
Hamilton’s life story is about a man who endured tremendous hardships in his young life, overcame them through a series of seized upon opportunities and became a success until his downfall. The algorithm tells me I might be interested in a biography of George Washington. And I might.
A human bookseller tells me I will enjoy in Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Vance is similar to Hamilton in that he faced tremendous challenges early in life and found a way to overcome. One such bookseller recommended Vance’s work. The human bookseller was right. I found the book to be an incredible insight into the minds of those living and enduring in the Rust Belt.
I probably wouldn’t have bought Hillbilly Elegy without human intervention. A human bookseller lives and breathes the world of books and is therefore superior to the algorithm.
The Revenge Of Analog is well-written. Sax has hit upon some eternal truths. We yearn for the authentic and the tangible. There are innovators who realize this need and are bringing back that which is timeless. I recommend The Revenge Of Analog. Go buy a copy… in hardback… and read it.