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 The Breker Trekker
Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson is vice president of Marketing for Breker Verification Systems. He previously served as Product Management Group Director for Advanced Verification Solutions at Cadence, Technical Marketing Director in the Verification Group at Synopsys and Vice President of Applications Engineering at … More »

Blog Post, Shall I Compare Thee to a Magazine’s Lifespan?

May 21st, 2013 by Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing

There’s been some discussion recently in various blogs and forums about the value of print versus digital media for technical publications. Of course this is just a microcosm of a massive shift occurring in the publication industry overall, but I’m going to focus for this post on the sort of technical information once found in physical magazines, industry trade papers, and printed catalogs. All that began to change in the mid 90s as the World Wide Web gained traction and today we live in a very different world than we did just 20 years ago.

A lot of the recent discussion is tied to the decision by technical publisher heavyweight UBM to discontinue print copies of its magazines effective July 1. This was not a huge surprise since UBM stopped printing Electronic Engineering Times late last year. However, that publication had already gone through many changes and no longer much resembled its familiar erstwhile tabloid format. But EDN has been a part of my magazine pile almost since I became an engineer, and more recently Design News and InformationWeek have been part of my regular reading. Apparently Test and Measurement World will no longer exist even in digital form. I will miss all of them.

Of course, I get the majority of my technical and business information online. I subscribe to dozens of different digests, perusing them each morning to catch up on the industry and to cherry-pick interesting items related to SoC verification for tweeting to Breker followers. I’ve never attempted to count them up, but I probably read ten times as many words online every week as I do in print publications. So why have I kept my print subscriptions to the UBM magazines as well as Electronic Design, Chip Design, several ACM and IEEE publications, and more?

Some of it is just habit, or perhaps nostalgia, but the simplest answer is that I’m most likely to read magazines when I’m grabbing a quick lunch. In a small company like Breker we go out for lunch together at least a few days a week, but there are other days when people are out visiting customers or my schedule allows only a quick sandwich. So I shove my keyboard safely out of the way and flip through my weekly pile of magazines, not worrying about the occasional crumb or drop of mustard. I don’t save magazines unless there’s a specific article I want to keep for future reference, in which case I’ll tear it out and toss it into a file folder.

This latter point is actually very important. Although some recent posts have done a nice job of summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of print vs. online, they’ve missed the key point of retention. Once you have a physical publication, or an article clipped from one, you can keep it forever. The technical content may grow stale, but the medium will never become obsolete. If you lose it, you can always find a technical library that has a copy. Yes, printed matter takes up a lot of room but its archival nature has been one of the keys to  modern civilization and culture. The great words of the past live on.

Digital distribution has no such guarantee. Most e-publishing is done in proprietary formats that could disappear at any time. The various electronic physical media are subject to accidental erasure, malicious destruction, bit rot, and format obsolescence. In theory, perpetual “live storage” online can also keep technical content alive forever, but it doesn’t always work that way. When online publications go out of business, often their content disappears from the Web. Years of browser usage have taught us to bookmark articles, not “clip” them by copying them.

So retention of technical content is another reason why I, as a reader, still have a certain level of fondness for print. In a future column I’ll explore my thoughts as a writer, some of whose online articles appear to be lost forever because I bookmarked them rather than making my own copies. In the meantime, please comment with your own thoughts on the ongoing print vs. online debate.

Tom A.

The truth is out there … sometimes it’s in a blog.

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