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Monday, December 14, 2015

Renewing Our Subscription with Magazines

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Those glossy pages have more to offer than their electronic counterparts. ♦ 
Running to catch your plane, stopping in at the airport newsstand, you grab a magazine to keep yourself entertained for the long ride. But why wouldn’t you just look up magazines on your laptop? Maybe there’s something about the shiny paper that's simply more enjoyable to flip through, something glamorous, even, about a physical magazine. Something that just can’t be replicated with a fingerswipe across a cold screen.
   Magazines in print aren't going anywhere, and there are a number of reasons for this. For one, the type of content published in magazines is more suitable to be read in print because it is better perceived in this form for the reader. The print format is more visually and organizationally accessible than the electronic alternative and, overall, suits the content better. Print can positively affect the experience of the content through tactility, through the way the physical form affects how material is presented and accessed; even the placement of ads is more enjoyable to flip through, and part of the experience, in print as opposed to the annoying, pop-up distractions advertising can be in electronic reading. Magazines are like the Super Bowl: you don’t skip through the commercials while you're watching it. The ads in a magazine are part of the appeal.
   Since reaching the technological age, and especially with the iPad’s invention, print magazine publishing has faced unprecedented challenges, as it’s less certainly expensive to create and more convenient to download the magazine’s app on your iPad or Kindle. In fact, you can pay almost nothing for an app that has the same articles as your favorite magazine.
   However, the layout of a magazine is lost in the electronic format, just as with e-books. Purchasing a magazine or subscribing is much like buying the hardback book you wanted, and not just because it looks nicer and has a sort of nostalgia for tangibility attached to it. People who buy books and magazines enjoy physical editions; not everyone wants to stare at the same screen they look at all day for work. And in terms of simple aesthetics print has the advantage, as some online editions are skewed to fit the screen and don’t include the same content as print versions.
   Unfortunately for the print and publishing industries, their customers might not be buying enough. In a New York Times article, “Wondering How Far Magazines Must Fall” by David Carr, he states “People magazine was down 18.6 percent, and The New Yorker had a similar drop, declining by 17.4 percent. Vogue and Cosmopolitan were down in the mid teens, and Time fell 31 percent.” With these numbers, larger companies in the digital world fear that the print industry will continue to decline, as it has become convenient to do everything online.
   It is true that print magazines have begun to decline in sales, but there are features that print magazines possess that e-magazines can’t rival. Print form magazines can lend themselves to long-form content and, unlike the fast-paced, 180-character world of the Internet, take their time in leading their readers to a point. Print form also makes the reading experience more private and personal, perhaps due to that sense of ownership one has when purchasing the physical; once you're done reading the magazine, you can choose to toss it and recycle it, or even keep it for years to come in tangible form. It’s easy to share as well, you can hand the magazine off to the next reader, whereas the iPad and Kindle are limited to the owner, with files near impossible to transfer to differing devices or those who don’t have e-readers.
   Magazine sales won’t succumb to e-magazine’s supposed convenience. Many readers still enjoy the experience of purchasing and handling print publications and will continue to enjoy them simply because e-books can’t offer the same experience. Print certainly needs to mend the money issue—you hardly see newspapers being read anymore when the Sunday paper goes for six dollars—and the bleak economy has set back the entire print industry and then some, but magazines are still the most promising format of print material there is. Print magazines aren’t facing extinction, aren’t irrelevant, and most certainly are still the best way to read your favorite juicy articles.
  • About the Author
    Morgan Rose Pearl was born in Lake Forest, Illinois, and grew up in Denver, Colorado. She recently moved to Oxford, Ohio, to attend Miami University and earn an English degree. Growing up, she and her family drove to the mountains every weekend in Colorado to ski and spent summers in Nantucket. She loves to write and enjoys writing mostly fictional pieces, as it allows her to be creative and spontaneous.
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    Sunday, December 6, 2015

    Don’t Judge a Book by its Gender: Shifting Standards in YA Fiction

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    Do gendered covers steer YA readers away from books they might enjoy? Maureen Johnson's Coverflip initiative posed that question, and the internet responded. ♦ 
    Color, script, design, funny little captions . . . readers expect the slightest of graphic design cues to tell them if a book is the right choice for their reading tastes. If the cues are misleading, it can be a little disorienting. For instance, if Paul Rudnik’s novel Gorgeous, with its image of a model in a gorgeous red number and its caption on “inner beauty,” is actually something along the lines of a crude comedy about obesity and social class, rather than more of a heartwarming and catty narrative that explores what it’s like to be a teen girl and super model, then you’re going likely going to have one confused reader. Clearly, cover design plays an important role in conveying the subject, tone, and feel of the novel it contains.
         In her 2013 initiative, Coverflip, Maureen Johnson, New York Times bestselling YA author, asked why. It all began with a casual tweet from Johnson reading “I do wish I had a dime for every email I get that says, ‘Please put a non-girly cover on your book so I can read it. –signed, A Guy.’” Johnson lamented that marketing tactics and social views seem to define women’s work as less “literary” while pointing out that a man’s work is almost never called “fluff” or a “beach read.” Novels written by women aren’t nearly as commonplace on the reading lists of a high school or college literature classroom as novels written by men. Students read entire Shakespeare plays and Dickens novels, but only short poems by the likes of Emily Dickinson and Phillis Wheatley.
         Johnson’s Coverflip “asked people to take a well-known book, then to imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, or was genderqueer, and imagine what that cover might look like.” Johnson’s objective wasn’t to say that either masculine or feminine covers were better or worse than the other, but rather to point out that a cover is just one way of representing the story inside, and that it shouldn’t dictate what people feel comfortable reading.
         Internet users across America quickly embraced Coverflip, as bloggers and literature lovers of all ages generated hilarious and shocking content. One high school English teacher and blogger for The Reading Zone had her students read Johnson’s essay and create their own Coverflip images. Numerous literary bloggers began creating “feminized” versions of classic book covers like the one featured below.


         Some bloggers noted that even women shy away from books with stereotypically feminine covers, often dubbing them as “trashy” or “cliché.” Female readers may avoid books with such covers because they perceive them simply as stories that depict girls whose only apparent objective is to find love and killer stilettos. However, upon reading such novels, readers may come to find that there is much more to the stories than meets the eye. Perhaps the story has complex characters who tackle genuine struggles to stay true to themselves while navigating difficult friend or family relationships or maintaining a positive body image. However, it can be difficult to keep this judgment in check when, as was evident before the Twilight craze, the majority of YA bookshelves looked like this:


         Trying to convince a young male reader to pick up a book with one of these covers—featuring curling, serif fonts, shirtless men, closeups of shoes and gowns, or taglines mentioning love—provides that same heart-sinking feeling as when a friend cringes at the first line of a song we just dubbed our favorite. However, these books so often have hilarious, relatable stories with strong, three-dimensional characters of both genders, as well as compelling, thought-provoking, action-driven plots.
         Similarly, a high-school-aged female reader may frown at the sight of the gender-neutral The Hunger Games cover when her male friend recommends it to her. After reading the novel, though, she may discover that she was glad she read it, not only because of the phenomenal story, but also because it expanded her book jacket horizons. If the book had instead used the mysterious, female-focused German cover, her male friend may not have even chosen to read it in the first place. Every book lover has likely experienced this to some degree, and it directly illustrates Johnson’s point that readers really do judge books by their covers. But what’s to be done about it? Is it possible to make an entirely gender neutral cover? Should this be done, even if it doesn’t stay true to the book? Wouldn’t it be boring if all books had neutral tones and only featured a title?
         There is no easy answer to any of these questions. Johnson recommends that the cover should relate to the book’s content, rather than to what sells well in the genre. To determine the impact of Coverflip and examine how the current literary marketplace handles the genderizing covers, it would be interesting to explore the evolution of Johnson’s covers as well as those of two other prolific New York Times bestselling YA authors.
         Johnson’s most recent YA series is evidence of a dramatic shift in cover design that began in 2011 and continues in her most recent piece, published in 2015. In 2011, she launched her Shades of London murder mystery series which was quite a shift in topic from her Little Blue Envelope books, which involved romance, travel, mystery, and thievery.
         The cover of the first book in the London series features stark, ghostly lettering and a gender-neutral dark turquoise color, as well as a blurry image of a foggy park. Meanwhile, the first cover of Envelopes features a young, fashionably dressed teen, curly pink script, and a light blue envelope backdrop. The genderized nature of the Envelopes series may seem obvious from the cover and it could be argued that this is simply a matter of content. Still, London is, in essence, also about a girl traveling and uncovering a mystery. Technically, the marketing team could have slapped a female protagonist on the front, despite the story’s focus on a Jack the Ripper copycat. Their decision not to create a stereotypically feminine cover shows increased awareness of a broad audience, which begs the question: Why do marketers think boys are more interested in murder than romance? Boys travel. Boys fall in love.
         In fact they do both in John Green’s New York Times YA bestsellers Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska. It is worth noting that both novels feature gender-neutral covers: one depicts an extinguished candle and the other a road map. Both of these covers represent metaphors integral to the story plots, but both are a little less cute than the famed The Fault in Our Stars' clouds and attractive blue hue.
         New York Times bestseller Ransom Riggs' series Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has become known for its eerie but captivating, freakshow-esque cover designs, which can, perhaps, be considered too strange to be gendered, and which continues to attract curious readers, both male and female. It is worth noting that nine of the fifteen YA bestsellers in early October 2015 were penned by men (a third of them by the prolific Green), as opposed to five of the nineteen in literary fiction written by men. The literary bestsellers often looked alike, with mostly blue covers and bold author bylines. Lee Child’s Make Me, Jan Karon’s Come Rain or Come Shine, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Josh Grisham’s Gray Mountain all follow this trend. However, there are a handful of outliers, like Andy Weir’s The Martian and David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. The higher number of female authors on the list is likely representative of book buyers, nearly 75% of whom are female, according to a study by bookseller Joseph-Beth. Perhaps this recognizes that adults feel less pressure to submit to the gendered norms assigned to them by their peers, and more willing to read whatever they’re interested in.
         Perhaps, one day, young adult audiences will be able to do the same.
  • About the Author
    Samantha Silber will graduate from Miami University in May 2015 with a B.A. in professional and creative writing. She has interned with the Department of Education, Miami’s College of Arts and Science, and the Thurber House. Sam likes editing, singing with the car radio, chatting up fictional characters, and traveling as much as she can.
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    Saturday, December 5, 2015

    How E-Reading Dethroned the Book Cover

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    Is the book's most powerful marketing tool at risk of being lost?  ♦ 
    In the early 1820s, illustrated book jackets only presented basic publishing information and were merely used as a temporary protective wrapping that consumers could discard after the purchase. According to The Guardian, it wasn’t till the 1920s, commonly known as the golden age of book jackets, that the industry began to utilize the front cover as an advertising tool. Ever since, though, publishers’ marketing and design departments have been responsible for putting together striking and visually appealing cover art because, even though we’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, most of us do just that; in fact, statistics show that the majority of consumers choose books based on the cover. Because of this, publishers focus on creating book covers designed with specific fonts, colors, and images to both attract potential readers and reflect a book’s content.
       In print publishing, illustrators face the challenge of creating an eye-catching book design that’s distinguishable amongst a variety of similar texts. Large bookstores such as Barnes & Noble have aisles organized by genre and only a few display tables for popular reads. If a book doesn’t have the luxury of sitting on one of these easily noticeable tables, its cover design is usually left fighting for the consumer’s attention while direct competitors are fighting right back.
       So what does this mean for the marketing of e-books? With an increased trend toward online reading, illustrators are struggling even more to create a distinctive design. Online retailers such as Amazon display multiple book covers on the screen at one time, shrinking images down to the size of the average stamp. As a result, cover art becomes barely recognizable. Unless a customer is already planning to purchase the book, it’s unlikely that he or she will be drawn to the microscopic cover image and actually click on the link to see the book up close.
       Instead of casually browsing for other literatures as print consumers might, online consumers are only purchasing books that they had planned to buy before entering the store. According to Forbes, only 3 percent of Amazon book sales come from consumers browsing categories, but a large 48 percent of sales are planned purchases in which a certain author or title is searched.
       Since consumers no longer have the leisure of browsing bookshelves for random reads, they are only committing to buying books based off of the opinion of mainstream society or personal recommendations. That same Forbes article mentions that 17 percent of Amazon book choices are influenced by bestsellers and top 100 lists, and 22 percent of book sales are suggestions from friends or family through email, phone, or social networks.
       There’s also an obvious tactile loss when replacing traditional book covers with virtual ones. Graphic designer Chip Kidd explains that, even though e-books offer convenience and portability, we are inevitably losing “tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness, [and] a little bit of humanity.” Hardcopies offer a sense of intimacy, allowing consumers to physically grab a book off of the shelf to feel the material of the cover. Online consumers, on the other hand, have to click a button to closely view a pixelated image of the cover. Depending on the website’s viewing availability, consumers may not even be able to see the backside of the book.
       Furthermore, a physical copy can market itself even after it has left the bookstore. When people read traditional books in public, bystanders can see not only the art which visually describes the book’s content, but also information such as the author and title of the work. If enticed by the design, the consumer has the option to purchase the copy. However, when people use e-readers or other electronic devices, no one around them can see what book they are reading. That is, if they are even reading a book. For all we know, they could be reading Facebook posts.
       Online reading is nearly erasing the marketing power of the book cover, forcing the book industry to fundamentally change the way in which it markets to consumers. Many people are going to online retailers only to buy books that were recommended by the public and, on these sites, are no longer given strong visual aesthetics to help anchor other, maybe less popular, book purchases. In addition, online consumers can no longer be seduced by the physicality of a book cover, and potential consumers may never even see the cover art because so many people are consuming literature through electronic devices. As the e-reading trend continues, the book industry loses out on thousands of spontaneous purchases, and their most powerful marketing tool - the book cover.
  • About the Author
    Megan Ashdown is currently a senior studying Professional Writing at Miami University. In her spare time, she likes to read, watch television, or hang out with friends.
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    Friday, December 4, 2015

    Engaging Readers Through Audiobooks

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    Audiobooks are for every reader, not the cheater.  ♦ 
    When I was younger and up to no good, I got grounded, like most kids, I’m sure. The difference is, when I was grounded, I was allowed to watch television and play games. I was allowed to go outside and play with the other kids in my neighborhood. In fact, I was allowed to do pretty much anything, with one exception. When I was grounded, my parents locked the door to our small home library. This devastated me. To avoid this, I spent as much energy as I possibly could trying to be “good” and devoted the rest to devouring my next novel.
         I didn’t see anything wrong with this much reading, though my parents worried about me being antisocial. I first confronted the subject of my parents’ worry in elementary school, when I was laughed at by none other than my third grade teacher for mispronouncing the word arrogant. For the first time, I wished I’d had someone to read to me, so I could understand how to pronounce the new words that I was so rapidly learning. It was no longer enough to understand the meaning, spelling, or context of these new words. If I couldn’t pronounce them properly, no one would take me seriously.
         I received an audio set of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets that Christmas, and listened to the first two CDs before concluding that I was definitely cheating. After all, I thought, it wasn’t really reading if I wasn’t looking at words, was it? Besides, I figured everyone would assume that I was listening to music, and thought it was much cooler to be seen out and about with my books. Because of my early opinions on audiobooks, it wasn’t until much later that I started to see their benefits. I realized I could listen to them during work outs or while driving to be more productive, and my morning commutes became more exciting. Even as I stared into long, languid lines of traffic, I could be immersed in another world entirely. Additionally, with audiobooks, I could keep up with the stories that interested me without sacrificing any more of my precious free time.
         I began looking for more efficient ways to get my fix of books. I needed something faster and more convenient. The technology was certainly out there to accomplish this. According to the PEW Research Center, around 28 percent of Americans were reading e-books as of 2014. However, audiobooks shouldn’t be left out of the discussion on growing reading technology. The Audio Publisher’s Association estimated that in 2014, audiobook sales totaled more than $1.47 billion, rising 13.5 percent from 2013’s sales. Unit sales grew by 19.5 percent, an increase nearly five times that of the overall book market.
         Despite this positive trend, there seems to be a lack of conversation surrounding audiobooks. This is especially surprising when one considers the many advantages they offer. For many readers, audiobooks provide an easier format for comprehending material. They also allow one to multitask, turning long commutes into opportunities for knowledge or entertainment. Additionally, audiobooks take up no space, which can be important for readers trying to eliminate clutter. They’re typically cheaper than buying a printed book, and sometimes even cheaper than e-books. Clearly, they’re very convenient. Along with their advantages, audiobooks do, however, pose the same risks of isolation as all forms of self-entertainment do. Ultimately, it’s always harder to strike up a conversation when someone has ear-buds in, and without a visible cover or title, people are less likely to strike up a conversation with a reader about the chosen story.
         There are also effects that are not as easy to track. My little cousin, who’s only twelve years old and very bright, hates to read. He certainly can read, as his grades have shown, but he just doesn’t seem to enjoy it. He claims it hurts his eyes and is “too boring.” This is a trend that I’ve personally seen often with young readers: boredom. However, if one were to hand him an iPod loaded with an audiobook, he would happily listen to it for hours while playing a computer game or cleaning his room. This might say something about his generation – maybe they prefer to multitask, or maybe they don’t like to sit still. He doesn’t worry about whether listening to an audiobook is considered reading or not. Rather, he’s simply using it as another form of entertainment. The fact that he’s interested in listening to everything from Harry Potter to old classics inspires me. I just love that he is being immersed in some sort of literary culture. With audiobooks, he is able to discover worlds that would have otherwise stayed closed to him simply due to formatting.
         It is, without a doubt, incredibly important for children to learn to decode the alphabet. Early visual experience with letters, words, and sentences is vital to the development of reading and writing skills. In several ways, an audiobook is just a different package for a story, typically including the exact same words and storyline found in print versions of the narrative. However, audiobooks also make their own contributions to the narrative experience. A good narrator is often able to breathe new life into even the most familiar of stories, or make a difficult passage easier to understand through his or her inflection. This is quite a helpful function of the audiobook, as, in the end, it doesn’t matter if someone is reading or listening to something if he or she can’t understand what’s being said. Audiobooks offer readers an exciting new method to build and alter their understanding of a presented narrative.
         The realm of the audiobook is growing constantly. As thousands of new titles are recorded, there continue to be more and more options for listening. With this wide and growing variety, there are audiobooks for nearly every reader, spanning many different genres and all sorts of literary tastes. Just about anything that one could be interested in is available in an audio format. For a person who is on the go, comprehends better audibly, or simply prefers listening to traditional reading, audiobooks are a convenient and enjoyable new path to explore. And no, they’re not cheating.
  • About the Author
    Lauren McKenzie is a student at Miami University, pursuing a degree in Interactive Media Studies. She loves all things related to technology (especially when it involves 3D modeling), but can’t deny the pleasure of relaxing with a good hardcover book.
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