Monday, April 19, 2010

The Joy of Print

Because of Lulu's ridiculous shipping costs to Canada (which, to be fair, are increasingly less ridiculous as the years drag on), I generally don't buy every issue of Fight On! as soon as it's released. Instead, I content myself with my PDF contributor's copies until I can order several issues at a time and thus make the shipping cost more justifiable. This morning I received issues 7 and 8 in the mail and I have to say what a joy it is to hold them in my hands.

Fight On! continues to impress me with the diversity and creativity of its articles each quarter, but the fact that it's in print is a big part of its appeal. I'm one of those horrible Luddites who finds electronic "books" poor substitutes for something I can actually touch. For me, there's something wonderful about being able to take my thumb and quickly flip through a magazine, scanning the pages for a particular article or illustration, along the way noticing something else entirely -- and getting sidetracked in the process. Of course, I generally prefer things to be "embodied" rather than virtual whenever possible, which is probably why, despite being a stupidly prolific blogger, I find face-to-face conversations vastly more satisfying than what passes for discourse on forums and in comment boxes.

I'm glad magazines like Fight On! and Knockspell exist. In my formative years as a gamer, I loved getting my copy of Dragon each month (and, much later, GDW's Challenge) and these old school magazines come close to evoking similar feelings in me. I recognize the advantages of PDFs and similar formats, but, for me anyway, print is almost always my preference, even with the extra expense and issue of storage. But then I'm probably weird that way.


  1. Just thought I'd make a point that you may not be as much of a Luddite as you think. My wife works in the ILL department of a large college, whose policy it is to not request books from other schools that her own school has in electronic format.

    Her general impression is that the students despise this practice. She tells me that 99% of students when notified that the book they requested is available electronically will specifically request that print version be sent anyway due to their displeasure at reading the electronic copy. And this from a population of 18-21 year olds who have grown up in the internet age and usually embrace digital formats.

    Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but for what it's worth I feel like digital books still have a way to go before the population at large will actually prefer them to good old print copies.

  2. I recognize the advantages of PDFs and similar formats, but, for me anyway, print is almost always my preference, even with the extra expense and issue of storage. But then I'm probably weird that way.

    Luddism and preference for tradition among the ranks of the OSR; surely not?!

    I have to agree with you on book-vs-ebook/pdf. You just can't do better than a 'real' book.

    My cousin (a media studies lecturer) and I rehashed the various for/against arguments only last weekend. He thinks my reverence for the durability and versatility of the printed medium is evidence that I'm a dusty stick-in-the-mud; I think that he's a purblind neophile who doesn't have the guts to take up my "throw it out of an upper floor window, then try to use it" challenge. :)

  3. My preference is for printed materials as well. I almost always print a copy of a pdf (usually in booklet form) before reading it. And I also prefer something professionally printed, as opposed those things printed using a personal printer.

    I prefer saddle-stitched to perfect bound, but that may just be a byproduct of my fondness for the old OD&D booklets.

  4. I'm much too long in the tooth to be a part of Paul's 18-21 demographic, but I find the printed page to be much easier on the eyes and satisfying to read. I like to read before going to sleep but the laptop screen hurts my eyes when I am really tired. Perhaps I connect the computer with 'work' and the book with 'reading for pleasure.' In addition, I think when the computer is on, I feel compelled to check my email, etc., and 'multi task' instead of just sitting down and enjoying my book.
    If ink and paper were not so damned expensive and enviro-unfriendly, I would print out everything I have on PDF.
    Word: Czarramp: How the Romanoffs got their car into the palace parking garage

  5. Digital print is just plain hard to read, for some reason, particularly when it comes to scholarly works, which need to be read carefully.
    When proof-reading my journal manuscripts I always have to print off a hard-copy; no matter how many times I re-read the digital copy I cannot pick up all the mistakes, but they leap off the page at me as soon as I have hard-copy in hand.

    I know that most of my colleagues say the same. So, do our brains have difficulty processing words in digital format? I'm not sure if any study has been done comparing the ability to comprehend writing in digital vs. print format.

  6. Virtual (electronic) publications are a terrific additional tool, specially in some fields like research. However, they are not ergonomic, while phisical books are (and and increcibly good design, at that; I own an e-book reader and the concept is useful but crappier). Averyone who has to read a lot (researchers, again) for their job will tell you.

    And finally, the name says it all: it's "virtual", not "real". I'd love our pretentious modern society would understand such simple concept...

  7. As a proud and long-standing Luddite, I am ashamed to admit that due to financial and storage reasons, all of my recent purchases in the world of gaming have been exclusively with the .pdf format. Although I, too, much prefer a book to a computer file, it must be noted that there is a difference between books for reading and books for using, such as gaming material. In my own experience, I have found that the.pdf format is one that is much easier to use than the printed format. Although my group has two copies of Labyrinth Lord on the table, we often find ourselves referring to the .pdf versions (via our laptops) because its faster. As a referee, I find it far more efficient and it leads to a lot less clutter.

  8. Kindles and other eInk readers are just as easy on the eyes as paper, thankfully. The biggest problem with them is that none out there, save possibly the Kindle DX, can display a full 8.5 x 11 (or A4) page clearly and readably without reformatting or rearrangement. Once that happens we'll have the ideal ereader for RPG materials.

    Bowses - what I does in da imperial court

  9. Much as my inner technophiliac yearns for a Kindle, I prefer hard copy. I may have bought the PDF of Knockspell, but I still print the articles.

  10. I own an original Kindle while not quite up to snuff to read gaming PDFs it has transformed my regular reading.

    It seem to me the most important factor is that electronic media needs to look and read like paper. Current e-book readers are close but still need work.

    Very soon (within a decade) we will be encountering inexpensive devices that make reading virtual work as easy as reading a book.

    The result will be that the two will exist side by side for a while as each will have strengths and weaknesses.

    Eventually when we get down to a inexpensive flexible piece of plastic that near indistinguishable from a glossy magazine page (e-paper) then we will see some interesting things happen.

  11. I like print 'cause it's easier to read in the 'ol water closet.

  12. I last weekend I organized my Dungeon Magazine collection, all 147of them, into a filing cabnit. Now i just need to get on e-bay and buy the three issues I don't have. As you can imagine the organization took quite a while as i was forced to flip thru almost every issue, read margin notes, skim the adventures, ect, no PDF copy would ever give me the joy of holding the old issues.

  13. PDF only has the place of replicating what I have in print anyhow or to have cool images/props that I need for my game. Or if affordable enough (like some of Vampire) that if I need to augment an existing game (ie Cthulhu) with an uber kewl mood then they should be purchased.

    However, I do wish the magazines would also dramatically drop in price as new ones get released for the reason indeed. We are very unlikely to see them in print in Canada due to the shipping costs and it would be nice to build up a collection even if it is PDF. Having them always at full price prevents that. It also hinders the RPG market by keeping items artificially high. For I could go to a gaming store and buy 1e AD&D for about $30. Now, if I were to settle for a high quality PDF, I would expect to pay no more than $5. Most manufacturers who subscribe to the Long Tail forget that it is important to maintain momentium as well as supply.

  14. re: e-books

    I've got some bad news for lovers of dead-tree products (such as myself). Bookstore chains and publishers are already invested in the technology. In a nutshell - it's less expensive all the way around. As soon as the publishers start advertising e-books, you can take it for granted that print is doomed.

    Of course, those guys don't have anything to do with fanzines, but I think we're not too many years away - it will certainly happen in our lifetime - from the point where an "in-print" item has the same appeal that a vinyl record has today: it's an interesting niche market, but no band is going to make a profit selling vinyl records.

    Well, great. Now I just went and got myself all depressed and I need to leave for my job . . . at the bookstore.

  15. referee: There is a cost to PDF products, and that is in the writing, design, layout, artwork, etc. Expecting all high quality PDFs to be 5 bucks or less isn't realistic if you want the publisher to make a profit. Without a profit that publisher won't be making many more PDFs for your enjoyment. All that being said, I'm a cheap F' myself and look for bargains when I can. Still, I've paid a premium for what I've considered HQ PDFs.

    I'm waiting to see how well RPG PDFs display on the iPad. There may be a dead tree purge in my future ;)

  16. James, I have to agree with you, I've had a lot of the old pdf's for awhile, and lately I've gone and printed a few at my local copy center. It's not as good as the original, but there is something about have a actual text in my hands. (I even go all out and get colour heavey weights for the covers, it gives a more authentic feel)
    Plus I find I can put NOTES in the books, which I couldn't nor would I want to in a pdf.

  17. I like flipping, and the handling of paper, but what I really want is to be able to take it with me, from the shitter to the plane. I lust after a Kindle Dx if it is a decent alternative, but I'm not parting with my shekels until I can fondle one.

  18. With shipping, an issue of Fight On! typically costs me something over £10. It's good, but not *that* good. A reasonable cost for a b&w ca 128 pp magazine periodical for me would be £3.50, but that barely covers Lulu's shipping costs.

  19. re: Tenkar - remember, I said over a long period of time. I would expect any new PDF to command premium cost to recover the work that went into creating it. However, a sliding scale downward, would certainly induce greater profitability as more people would be able to afford it. Based upon the word of mouth and regular "upgrades" to the original product...would keep the long tail running much longer than what is currently the business model.

  20. I had this post on this subject sitting in draft status. Published now.

    In brief: PDF files aren’t for reading on-line. They’re for printing.

  21. Being of the 18-21 range and highly computer savvy, I must say that paper books are the way to go and will continue to be until they can make the glowing screen of a computer cause some form of discomfort half-way through a good book and allow easier browsing. If some one like me who is going to collage for computer programming goes for a physical copy you can hardly be called a Luddite for it.