Information Wants To Be Easily Accessible

Posted On: 10/31/2019

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The November-December, 2019 issue of VENDING TIMES is the last that will appear in print – for awhile; the market changes, and we are prepared to change with it. It’s well to remember that the “foreseeable future” seldom really is all that foreseeable! Our online content will increase commensurately, and we will continue to cover this endlessly fascinating industry to the best of our abilities.

What follows is one man’s reflection on this transformation. Stepping outside the “editorial we,” I will report that I have been helping to produce VENDING TIMES for more than half a century, and I have taken part in its progress from a tabloid publication printed in monochrome on newspaper stock to a “standard” magazine printed in full color on coated paper, and to a digital publication that has grown steadily in ability and reach over the past two decades. Changes in the marketplace now require us to devote full time to that digital publication.

One of the recurrent themes of the industry’s ongoing conversation is that vending operators have two customers: the location decision-maker and its population. Sometimes the interests of the two are not compatible (for example, the population’s desire for lower prices and the decision-maker’s need for a higher commission). This is true of any concession business.

When you stop and think about it, it also is true of advertising-supported media. The older model, in which the cost of producing and distributing a periodical was borne by its subscribers, was superseded (although not replaced) in the last century. Once magazines began to depend on paid advertising, they also found themselves addressing two clienteles: their readers and their advertisers. Of course, the advertisers want readers to be happy and receptive – as VT has expressed it, “The way to make a magazine better for advertisers is to make it better for readers” – so this is seldom a problem; but it can entangle personal tastes with what should be a straightforward business decision.

No one doubts that the Internet has had a dramatic effect on our ability to obtain information; that transformation often is compared with the impact of printing in the 15th Century. The information is not always reliable, but then, neither is the information available in print. Every public library contains a great many books that present preposterous assertions as fact (one useful summary can be found in the late Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which was written before the Internet was invented). “Fake news” is not an Internet innovation; it has been around forever.

Similarly, no one can doubt that computer graphics and digital imaging have had a tremendous impact the visual arts, from photography through illustration to movie-making. But it’s important not to confuse the process with the product. Digital cameras have supplanted cameras using silver-based film because they deliver equally good prints more quickly, easily and economically. Film is surviving, and there are sound arguments for its aesthetic value, but they don’t bear on the purposes for which most photographs are made. It is very difficult to see any difference between a well-made digital photograph and a conventional silver-and-dye color print.

This is not the case with printing and publishing. It is true that a computer running word-processing software and sending its output to an inkjet or laser printer is a faster and more versatile way to produce a document than even the best typewriter, but both systems deliver products that look and feel the same.

When you move beyond looking for more efficient replacements for a typewriter to looking at replacements for paper, real difficulties arise. There is a substantial difference between the effect of a printed page and a page viewed on a video display.

Happily, each of them has distinct advantages. Online publishing offers immediacy beyond anything attainable with print, and the ability to link quickly to related information. Print offers durability, portability and a distinct visual appeal that a screen cannot duplicate. The two approaches are complementary, not competitive. Used in conjunction, they can give readers – and advertisers – benefits unattainable by either one of them alone.

I think it is a mistake to believe that a new way of doing something  always is superior to an older way. Some things that our ancestors took for granted, like the buggy-whip and the coal stove, have disappeared, because they became irrelevant or because a new alternative proved to be more convenient and versatile. Other things, like the hammer and the railroad locomotive, are still with us – when you need one, nothing else will serve quite as well. But it’s very helpful to have nail guns and airplanes, too.

So I, for one, look forward to exploring new ways to present useful information in a timely and attractive manner. There are real differences between a Web page and a print page; the trick is to identify the differences that can be turned to the reader’s advantage. We can do that.