I used to be the circulation and fulfillment manager for a small, independent, faith-based magazine. Ever-increasing postage rates and pressure to increase online presence were constant concerns. I regularly received e-mails from people who wanted to know if we offered digital subscriptions. Their inquiries often included some version of the following: “I’m trying to save paper and read more material online. You know, go green. Save the trees.”
It’s no shock that the ongoing digitization of everything has meant big changes for the magazine industry. And now, with Canada Post’s phasing out of urban door-to-door delivery due to “the increasing use of digital communication and the historic decline of letter mail volumes,” an online presence is fast becoming a mainstay of magazine publishing.
For Canadian Mennonite, an increased online existence seems inevitable. In his editorial, “What’s ahead?” (Oct. 14, 2013, page 2), Dick Benner says the current way of delivering this magazine to households through the mail is “slow and archaic—and must change. Delivery of the content of Canadian Mennonite will slowly but surely change to more electronic and less print.”
I understand the motivation for this shift. It’s logical for journalistic outlets to keep up with the times. All the same, I worry that a move towards “less print” compromises the community of readers that is embodied by the printed pages of Canadian Mennonite.
If it seems a stretch to say that words and pictures on paper can embody community, that is only a sign of how removed we already are from print culture and its materiality.
Author and professor Alison Piepmeier writes about the embodied community of zine (“zeen”) culture in her book Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (New York University, 2009). Zines are small, homemade, handwritten or typewritten magazines sent directly to readers by the creators through the mail or person-to-person contact. They revel in materiality: rough edges of glued paper, taped-on clip art, string-tied covers, envelopes with illustrations are all tangible, tactile traces of the creators’ work. The materiality of the zine makes it “a site of physical interaction” between the creator and reader that cannot be experienced through a seamless and immaterial online forum.
As Piepmeier explains, zine culture rejects the pressure of commercial mass media to digitize: “[R]ather than positioning their readers as consumers, as a marketplace, the zine positions them as friends, equals, members of an embodied community who are part of a conversation with the zine maker, and the zine aesthetic plays a crucial role in this positioning.”
I know copies of Canadian Mennonite aren’t handwritten or tied up with string. But when I receive a copy in my mailbox, it does feel like I’ve received a letter from a friend. The thin pulp pages embody the work of the writers, editors and staff who compile, lay out and distribute our stories. The materiality of each printed issue reminds me I am not merely a consumer of information, but that I am part of a community of people who also read these stories and turn these pages.
My response to those e-mails went something like this: “No, I’m sorry, we don’t offer digital subscriptions. Yes, we consume paper, but the words on our pages don’t require logging in, power cords and a hydro dam 500 kilometres away to be read. We remain print-loyal and believe we connect with our readers more authentically through our printed issues.”
So, dear reader, will you turn the page with me?
Katie Doke Sawatzky (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Vancouver. She is a section editor for Geez magazine, which still remains print-loyal.