LJ Archive

From the Editor

Off the Press

Doc Searls

Issue #209, September 2011

Why all-digital is more liberating than some-digital and some-print.

Ever since I discovered HTML, it's been my preferred format for writing. Every word of mine that's gone into Linux Journal, since I started in 1996, has been written and delivered in HTML. That's because my writing has been normalized to hypertext, and to pixels rather than print.

What's different for me this time is that I'm not paying attention to my monthly 900-word limit (or less if images are involved). While a word limit does impose the discipline of brevity, the fact remains that brevity is not the only virtue of good writing. Yes, it's a good one to have when your column appears on the last page of a print magazine. But when that magazine is no longer confined by the dimensions of printed pages, you're free to go longer—or shorter, as the case may be.

My case this month is for the all-digital version of Linux Journal. Yes, we lose a lot, but we stand to gain much more. Let me explain.

We've fought to stay in print ever since the dot-com crash nearly killed us, 11 years ago. Before that crash, we were fat with ads from well-funded startups. When the bust hit, many advertisers vanished without a trace, owing us literally $millions we never collected. After that crash, getting and keeping advertisers for a print trade publication was much harder. The costs of printing and mailing also went up, and continued to go up. Meanwhile, Linux succeeded in the marketplace and is now the most widely used operating system.

Yet, while Linux continues to spread, the population of pure-Linux geeks—the kind who subscribe to Linux Journal—has remained a core that has grown very little. We continue to serve that core. That's our mission, and we're sticking to it. The question is, what's the best way? Today, it's hard to say print is that best way, especially with more and more people spending more and more time reading glowing rectangles rather than paper.

But, we are by nature and practice a print magazine, and we have done our best to remain one, even as the world has changed around us. So I want to congratulate the publishing side of our house for keeping our print operation going, against stupendous odds, and for never selling out. (And believe me, there were many offers, mostly from entities that are now gone.) Our team did the impossible for as long as it could.

Yet, consider this. We also always have been a digital publication, starting with the first CD digest of issues in 1994. And, digital publishing has done nothing but grow from the beginning. So has advertising in the digital realm, which is inherently limitless.

Something else also has started to happen in digital publishing. It has become easier, and more acceptable, for people to pay for goods that also are available for free. There has been much experimentation here, and we are among the many doing the experimenting. One advantage for us is that we've always had paying subscribers. Maybe it's crazy to think they'll stick with us after we go all-digital. But, I don't think so. I'm a big believer in the willingness of people to pay for value, provided the means are there. We have some means today, and we will have better ones tomorrow, especially if you help us think those through—while also helping us improve our editorial methods and materials.

Every magazine has a periodical heartbeat. Ours always has been monthly. That won't change. What will change is how much time passes between what we write and when it appears. A production cycle that took several months will now take just weeks. (So for this issue, I am writing this on August 1st for a September publication date.) Much more of our stuff will be current, or as close to now as we can get.

We always will remain a print publication at heart (and in that respect, we will be no different from the rest of journalism), but we won't remain contained by the print medium. That medium, where nearly all of our contributors grew up, has legacy values (fairness, transparency, credit to sources and so on) that are important to bring to a vast new world that has too little of them. Again, we expect you to help us with that.

Linux Journal always has been a publication for the Linux Community. Linux Journal will now be a publication by the Linux Community as well. This is a very good thing. Here in the digital world, connection between people and ideas are much more direct and immediate. Understandings are also easily iterated and improved. Just like code.

Maybe Linux doesn't need Linux Journal—or anything, other than continued constructive hacking in kernel space. But I do believe Linux has been better with Linux Journal around than it would have been without it. Therefore, with Linux Journal in a much more improve-able place, we can't help but make Linux better in the process.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. He is also a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara.

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