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Is Print Now Passé?
Kirt's Cogitations™ #194

These original Kirt's Cogitations™ may be reproduced (no more than 5, please) provided proper credit is given to me, Kirt Blattenberger.

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   Cog·i·ta·tion [koj-i-tey'-shun] – noun: Concerted thought or
                                        reflection; meditation; contemplation.
   Kirt [kert] – proper noun: RF Cafe webmaster.


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Is Print Now Passé?

This topic might seem a little self-serving, and perhaps it is, but I have a question. How necessary are print editions of technical magazines anymore?

Most engineers I know rarely ever read their magazines, while many subscribe to all the main titles: Microwave Journal, Microwaves & RF, RF Design, High Frequency Electronics, etc. Some magazines are printing only parts of an article to save page space and then refer the reader to full versions online. If a component is needed, nobody I know of picks up a magazine to search for available parts - everybody jumps on the Internet to get the latest information directly from the manufacturer. Printed databooks are rarely used items any more as well. Even Digi-Key and Newark catalogs, once the lifeblood of a prototyping lab, are hardly ever used anymore. Where I work, all the designers have wirelessly networked notebook computers to carry between the lab and office and do not need or want paper.

All this dead tree byproduct sits on shelves and on cubicle floors for years until the resident carts it all off to the trash can. Environmentally conscious folks put the unread - often unopened - magazines and catalogs in a recycle bin. The trash receptacles in the mail room are always chock full when the items never even make it to the cubicles - where they can then sit for years. Think of the energy consumed in the printing and distribution of all that wasted paper.

Advertisers pay thousands of dollars for full-page advertisements and fractional page ads. Even though circulation claims are high, actual readership has got to be quite low. Some of the ads are very well done, and some are quite clever, but most probably go unnoticed. I have to believe that the vast, vast majority of print advertisements are never seen by the intended audiences, and of those that do, how effective are they?

The print advertisements I notice most are in the technical news magazines like EE Times, and in the publications whose existence is to promote products, like Microwave Product Digest and EE Product News. Maybe it is that way because when reading those kinds of magazines, my motivation for doing so is as much to see the ads as it is to read the short articles. When reading Microwave Journal, I skim through looking for design articles of interest and never even notice the ads.

In the days of yore, if I saw an interesting article in a magazine and wanted to pass it around, I would walk over to the copier and burn off some copies, then walk around and drop them on peoples' desks. Sometimes I would route them via internal snail mail. With an advertisement or two on every page containing the article, companies received yet another source of distribution for their money. Nowadays, I locate the article online - even if I originally see the article in print - and e-mail the link to interested parties. The $10,000 full-page ads are never seen.

With the ubiquity of the Internet, and with the delay that occurs between submitting advertisement material and the actual print appearances, would the companies spend their money more wisely both by building their own websites and by advertising with well-visited online engineering websites? Not that long ago, the Old Media dominated and dictated the dissemination of news and product advertisements because alternate real-time news sources like talk radio and the Internet were just not available. Report after report tells of the waning influence of the once all-powerful public print venues and the emergence of powerful online options. Now, major companies are spending advertising dollars on selected websites, in recognition that a paradigm shift has occurred.

I recently had an offer by a major vendor to host a copy of their latest full-page print advertisement on RF Cafe and provide a link to it. I suggested that instead of paying me to do that, that he pay the $10/month charge for a standard highlighted advertisement and just include a link to the document that is now hosted on his own website. Doing so allows that vendor to change the ad content at will and thereby saves him a huge amount of money. Accordingly, there are no long lead-times and scheduled production costs involved. He thanked me for looking out for his company's best interest.

RF Cafe receives more than 175,000 page views per month and provides a huge opportunity for a vendor to have his logo and/or ad seen. Clicking on a logo takes the visitor straight to the vendor’s website where all the data he wants to make available to the public is readily accessed. As a bonus, most engineering websites like RF Cafe, Microwaves101, Spread Spectrum Scene, and Radio Electronics (run by Ian Poole) provide a vast resource of additional information and resources for visitors. Even the print magazines' websites offer a lot of good information in addition to digital versions of their printed articles. Many more good engineering websites are out there in Cyberspace just waiting to be utilized. I link to a couple thousand of those sites throughout RF Cafe.
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