Few movies are as dear to my heart as the original Ghostbusters. I loved it as a kid, I loved it as a teenager, and I love it as a grizzled old fart. The characters, the pacing, the virtuoso mix of horror and humor… not only do I never get tired of it, I have honest trouble conceiving of a circumstance where I ever could.
But I digress. This post is only peripherally about Ghostbusters; in particular, the Nietzschean response of resident soulless scientist Dr. Egon Spengler when poor Janine Melnitz attempts to make conversation about his reading habits.
Janine: You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
Egon: Print is dead.
Egon isn’t good at casual conversation, is the point the movie is making here. Also, in 1984 such a statement was pretty extreme to make, certainly only the domain of extremist crackpots like, well, Dr. Egon Spengler. Why don’t we all just put on our tinfoil hats while we’re at it?
Then we fast forward to 2011, and this off-the-wall fictional character has become freakin’ Nostradamus. I mean, if Nostradamus wasn’t a complete joke at predicting the future.
Egon didn’t predict the Internet and the flood of mobile devices, but he’s sure playing Sybil in predicting the effects.
I’m not exactly breaking any huge news pointing this out, others have been pointing it out for years. As early as 2005 a print journalist convention basically told its attendees the same thing Egon uttered, and told them they’d better learn to deal with it. Articles on the phenomenon are everywhere, some arguing it’s as overblown a statement now as it was in 1984… but…
Now, technically, Wizard Magazine (and its sister offering, Toyfare) has only been announced as moving to a digital-only format, rather than being ceased altogether. But the fact remains that no longer will we see those plastic-wrapped publications at the grocery store or 7-11 or wherever else we might have grown accustomed to buying them. Perhaps, like me, in recent years you grew accustomed to not buying them, and if you don’t think those two factors are related then I’d venture to say you have a poor grasp of cause-and-effect. The only time I still read Wizard was when I got a free issue being handed out at a Comic-Con. This made for decent reading while waiting in a line, but I wasn’t particularly contributing to the coffers of Gareb Shamus and his intrepid crew, a crew which had been shrinking as people started leaving Wizard on the shelves and got their comic book news online instead.
Now while there are several criticisms of Wizard’s business decisions and practices (CBR’s Robot 6 offers a good selection for your reading pleasure), it may at least be unfair to call them out on the demise of their printed page. At this point I’m really not sure geekdom has any room for a successful print publication. People and Us Weekly are likely safe, since the readership of these circulars and those who regularly surf the Web aren’t necessarily in the same Venn Diagram intersect yet (though give it time… TMZ’s website is a really, really popular spot…), but geekdom frickin’ loves the Internet. It’s the world at our fingertips without ever having to leave the proverbial basement, and it wasn’t long before we figured out that the online geek news sites were able to give us our fix in a much more timely fashion, and most importantly of all, give it to us for free.
Why drop $5.99 on a magazine whose articles might well be out of date by the time you read them? You could argue that Wizard had the clout to get the interviews with the big stars and the set access to the big productions, but over the years that edge eroded as sites like Comic Book Resources began being taken equally as seriously for promotional purposes. And in the event you liked a particular offering such as Twisted Toyfare Theater, well, they came out with separate collections. There just was less and less reason to buy.
Not convinced? Well, a few years ago another geek cornerstone, Dragon Magazine (and its associated publication Dungeon) also closed its presses and moved to an online-only format. The good news is that as far as I know their D&D Insider subscription package seems to be working out for them, allowing not only access to the online magazine but several other features as well. So there’s hope yet for squeezing money out of us despite the Internet’s smorgasbord of free content, but I don’t know what sort of unique offerings Wizard can bring to the table if it intends to try to charge anything. Right now it’s a big shake-up of not only moving the magazine online, but changing the corporation around and launching a 12 city convention “tour”, all under a single Wizard World label.
And whether all that succeeds or fails, none of this changes the weight of Egon’s prophecy. With the introduction of services like Kindle, handheld devices are becoming a replacement for books, as my wife reminds me every night she comes to bed with her iPod in hand and spends a couple hours relaxing with her latest text download. They even come with their own reading lights. About the only thing I still question is what form traditional comics can take on any device smaller than an iPad, since a good comic to me is as much about the shape of its panels and their relation to each other as about the content within them. That’s not stopping the rise of technologies like ComicPlus (which recently teamed with print comic distributor Diamond as their digital distribution partner), but I do think it’s one case where you can lose something of the experience. Then again, maybe I’m just being old and not wanting to admit where the future leads.