Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pull and push styles of publishing

Access to a printing press on my arrival in the UK was a joyful experience as the Shah's censorship in Iran had denied me the chance to use a proper press. Up to that point the best I had been able to use was a duplicating machine that used "stencil" sheets to reproduce pages at a poor quality by turning a handle. As the runs where short, the same publication was read by many people, there was only a small improvement on my school magazine of one copy posted on the school gate. But in the UK I had found a way of having long runs at minimal cost. You could get a copy in the hands of each student at the university.

I took delight in learning about the mechanical process of printing. How the signatures (sections) could be gathered and folded etc; how we could most effectively match plate and paper sizes to reduce the costs. That is why I insist that all new staff at Intellect visit our printers and at least have an idea of the printing process. Sometimes a small change to the number of pages or the size of a publication makes a significant difference in the costings. Thus an uneconomical proposition can turn into a successful project with creativity on the production side.

As I gained confidence and understood the potential of this new technology I began to understand that the notion of what "publishing" was for me was changing. While at school my publication was a single sheet of paper on the wall, here I had many copies of the same material duplicated. Before I had to bring the readers to the place where the magazine was, now I had to take the magazine to where the readers were. While before I had a record of the reader's reactions now I did not.

In today's jargon my school magazine used a "pull" technology while my university magazine used a "push" technology! Pull the audience to your publication or push yours into their hand. This blog and many other web-based publications remind me of my school magazine. As there is one central copy of the publication you can be sloppy with spelling and grammar as you can go back and correct it. You can also go back and see the reactions of the readers who could be bothered to comment. With the printing press you need to get everything right before you duplicate and when people mark their copy of your publication you have no way of seeing that.

Which system do I prefer? I am not sure!

I think it is a good discipline to strive for excellence and try and get it just right before pressing the "publish" button. But I also think it is good to be able to see a trace of the reader's reactions or at least know the pages were most read. There can be a more intimate relationship with the pull technology while a better quality with the push technology. I presume it will be horses for courses at the end.

And what about Apps that can change the content you see depending on your location or your user profile? Well that is another challenge altogether that I am just getting my head around.


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