Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What Is a Dead Tree Edition? 7 Ways the Meaning Has Evolved

To celebrate the seventh birthday of the “Dead Tree Edition” blog this month, here’s a look back at how the meaning of the phrase “dead tree edition” has changed since October 2008.

The "experts" concluded that the Web
had blasted a fatal hole in print.
Since the early days of the Internet, “dead tree edition” has been slang for a printed publication, but the phrase no longer carries the baggage it used to. Linguists would say that the phrase’s denotation is little changed but that the connotations are vastly different.

In 2003, William R. Tracey wrote succinctly that the phrase was “derogatory cyberspeak for the paper version of a periodical that appears in both paper and electronic (Internet) forms.” “Dead” highlighted what the digerati thought printed periodicals soon would be, and “tree” underscored the supposed environmental horrors of turning a renewable resource into a product.

The meaning was largely unchanged five years later when this blog was launched, at a time when a digital-only publication promoting print media was still an ironic oddity. The name was meant as a badge of honor: “Yeah, I’m a print geek; you gotta problem with that?” But some folks in the traditional publishing and printing industries were not amused. (See “Can You Trust an Anonymous Blog with an Aggravating Name?")

Not dead yet:The wound wasn't fatal. New
shoots and leaves demonstrate print's vitality.
Here are seven ways the phrase’s meaning has changed since October of 2008:

1) Books: The most obvious change is that “dead tree edition” now includes books, not just periodicals. E-books had been around in some form for years. But they didn’t start making a splash – and spurring the inevitable predictions that they would soon put Gutenberg out of business -- until the Kindle 2 was introduced in 2009.

2) Digital publications: Back in 2008, many of us ink-on-paper types worried that digital editions would soon replace printed ones. It’s not happening. Printed daily newspapers are withering away, but not because people are switching to digital newspapers. Digital magazines (as opposed to the web sites of magazines) have mostly been an overhyped bust, especially now that smartphones have largely usurped tablets. E-book sales grew exponentially for a few years, then plateaued at somewhere around 20% to 30% of the book market.

3) Human nature: Publishers used to assume that once people “went digital,” they would never go back to print. Human behavior turned out not to be so black and white. People who wouldn’t think of getting their news from a newspaper rather than their phone see nothing incongruous about leaning back with a fashion or hobbyist magazine. Consumers who load up their Kindles with novels and biographies still seem to turn to print for other genres of books. A few folks are print or digital diehards; everyone else expects digital when they want digital and print when they want print.

4) Greenwash: Consumers are far more aware these days that electronic devices host a plethora of hazardous materials and that the “coal-fired Internet” consumes massive amounts of power. Many a company has dropped its “go green, go paperless” promotions of digital alternatives, knowing that its dubious claims won’t stand up to an in-depth environmental assessment or challenges from the likes of Two Sides. And perhaps more people now realize that paper manufacturing more often discourages deforestation than causing it.

5) “Dead tree” magazines forgot to die: In 2008, magazines were widely predicted to be headed down the same toilet that was (and still is) swallowing the newspaper business. But a funny thing happened on the way to oblivion: Magazine publishers transformed into “magazine media” companies, sporting leaner and more niche-oriented print brands that acted as launching pads for successful digital ventures. Gone are the glory days of huge newsstand sales and bloated, advertising-subsidized circulation. Yet magazines have found their place in the multimedia publishing world as premium products that deliver steady profits.

6) The digital-media business is no picnic: Digital products were supposed to liberate publishers from the old evils of paper prices, postal rates, and "expect 6 to 8 weeks for delivery." But instead of a new utopia, we've wandered into a strange land full of its own ills -- low ad rates, banner blindness, ad blockers, and a continuing scramble to keep current with technology. And don't forget such lurking monsters as Google, Facebook, and Apple that can bankrupt publishers with a single change of algorithm or policy. Compared to pop-ups, interstitials, and other effluents that are desperately trying to monetize page views, the good old right-hand ad page facing a left-hand editorial page looks like pretty nifty technology.

7) Digital needs print: Publishing people used to have silly debates about print (“It’s dead”) versus digital (“turning dollars into dimes”), but find that such either/or thinking doesn’t fit the real world. Web sites that are associated with a respected print publication have a huge competitive advantage over those that don’t, especially in fields where credibility and search engines are crucial. Many publishers find that the economics of long-form journalism (what we used to call “articles”) don’t work on the web unless there’s a print publication that helps cover the costs.

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    Monday, October 26, 2015

    Prospects Dim for USPS Early-Retirement Offers

    U.S. Postal Service employees waiting for incentives to retire early shouldn’t get their hopes up.

    “It is unclear if USPS will continue to use separation incentives to reduce the size of its career workforce,” says a new Congressional Research Service report, “U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, FY 1995-FY2014.”

    The Postal Service’s latest five-year plan, updated in April 2013, “included a goal to reduce its career workforce to approximately 404,000 employees through attrition by 2017” which would represent a 17.3% decrease (84,300 fewer employees) from FY2014 staffing levels,” the report says.

    USPS staff told the CRS this month that it’s working on a new five-year plan, which the researchers said “might contain new strategies for increasing the cost efficiency of the workforce, including the alteration or removal of workforce reduction goals.” Translation: “Postal officials acknowledged they have abandoned their impossible staff-reduction goal and therefore aren’t likely to offer early-retirement incentives any time soon."

    USPS shed about 92,000 career workers from FY2010 to FY2013, with more than half receiving such incentives as Voluntary Early Retirement (VERA) and cash bonuses of up to $20,000. But the only early outs in FY2014 involved 1,380 postmasters, and the number of career employees has actually inched up in the past year.

    An ecommerce-fueled rise in the USPS’s package business, slower decreases in traditional mail volumes, and apparent abandonment of a plan to curtail Saturday delivery have made obsolete the goal of shrinking to 404,000 careerists. After teetering on the edge of insolvency a couple of years ago, the Postal Service has recently operated on a slightly cash-positive basis despite backing off on workforce-reduction efforts.

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    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Two Paper Companies Convicted of Being Canadian

    Paper undergoing supercalendering
    First there were the Black Liquor Boondoggles, now there’s the Supercalendered Scam. The U.S. government’s attempts to prop up the country’s ailing paper industry once again are going to ridiculous lengths, this time with U.S. consumers, printers, and publishers footing the bill.

    Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed duties on imports of supercalendered (SC) paper from four Canadian companies, supposedly because the companies received unfair subsidies from governments in Canada

    But DOC didn’t even bother to investigate two of the companies, Catalyst Paper and Irving Paper. In a case of pure guilt by association, Commerce's case against the two basically amounts to: "They make SC in Canada; therefore, they are guilty."

    A Catalyst news release neatly summarizes what happened:

    The DOC imposed preliminary countervailing duties on imports of supercalendered paper from four Canadian paper producers – Port Hawkesbury Paper, Resolute Forest Products, Irving Paper and Catalyst Paper – on July 27, 2015. Despite its statutory obligation to examine each of the companies, the DOC refused to examine Catalyst Paper and Irving Paper individually, and instead assigned them a preliminary “all-others” rate of 11.19%, which is the simple average of the preliminary rates assigned to Port Hawkesbury Paper and Resolute Forest Products.

    Since August 4, 2015, based on this rate, Catalyst has deposited to the U.S. treasury approximately $1.3 million, representing sales of 17,000 tonnes of supercalendered paper to U.S. customers.

    In its Final Determination, the DOC once again refused to examine Catalyst Paper and Irving Paper individually and instead assigned them a final “all-others” rate of 18.85%, which this time is a weighted average of the final rates assigned to Port Hawkesbury Paper and Resolute Forest Products.

    Close-up of a supercalender
    If you’re an American, you may be saying, “What the heck, let the Canadians pay.” But much of the burden is actually falling on Americans in the form of higher prices for paper and an unintended windfall for Canadian printers.

    Because the duties are creating such a huge mismatch between the Canadian and U.S. prices for the same paper, some printing work that was done at U.S. plants is being shifted north of the border. SC paper, which is polished at high pressure through a series of rollers, is often used in magazines and newspaper inserts.

    Also, Catalyst and Irving are not exactly foreign companies. Catalyst employs more than 1,000 people at its two U.S. paper mills, and Irving has extensive forestry operations in Maine.

    You can blame the struggles faced by American SC manufacturers on the declining demand for magazine-quality paper. Or on the strong U.S. dollar. Or even on capitalism. But don’t automatically blame the Canadian companies that, as far anyone can tell, are merely engaging in good old American-style free enterprise.

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    Wednesday, October 14, 2015

    A Kick in the Listicles: 7 Reasons Digital Media Are Inferior to Print

    It's no wonder a Viagra TV ad features a press operator, not a web geek.

    In honor of the second annual International Print Day, today the Dead Tree Edition Research Institute and Tiddlywinks Club delves into why print -- specifically, printed magazines -- are better than digital media. The list is endless, but because yesterday was the Institute's seventh birthday (Here's my first blog post, from Oct. 13, 2008. It kind of sucks.), we are limiting the list to seven:

    1) Sexiness
    I have a confession to make: At my day job, those of us who work on the magazines love to throw around suggestive print terms like "blow-ins," "dot whacking," and "droop." It drives the web guys crazy because they think we're having all the fun while they can only discuss such exciting concepts as viewability and third-party data.

    Our attractive female art director really got their attention the other day when she was looking at a paper sample and shouted, "This is too limp. I need something with more stiffness and bulk!" We've even got the webbies convinced that "trim" and "bleed" are some kind of kinky print terms a la 50 Shades of Grayscale.

    Let's face it, folks: The web has listicles, but print has balls.

    2) 3-year-olds
    You can't break the screen on a magazine.

    3) Advertising
    The digital geniuses have been doing web ads for 20 years and still haven't figured out how to make any money from them without annoying the hell out of everybody and crashing our browsers.

    Magazines are now guaranteeing results for advertisers.
    Meanwhile, the good old right-hand ad page next to a left-hand editorial page performs just fine, without popups, popunders, popovers, Pop Tarts, or other digitally enhanced annoyances.

    4) Scent strips
    Ladies, here is today's money-saving tip: Instead of buying expensive perfume, just subscribe to three fashion magazines. It will probably cost you only $15 a year (Sad, but true) and provide a wide array of scented ads.

    Just open a scent strip, touch it to your body, and re-close the strip for later use. You'll have enough scents ads to keep you smelling pretty every day of the year (unless you're like the girl Mr. Tree briefly dated in high school, who didn't know the difference between "dab" and "bathe." I still get flashbacks when I get a whiff of Charlie perfume's distinctive dying-skunk scent.)

    5) Flies
    Ever swatted one with an iPad?

    6) Privacy
    If you subscribe to a magazine, the publisher knows your name and mailing address and has some SWAGs (Sophisticated Wild Ass Guesses) about your gender, age, and household income.

    But on the web, each page you visit and each link you click is fair game for the ad techies who track your every move and sell the data to the highest bidder so you can be "served" ads that are specially selected just for you. They also make it convenient for hackers to learn about those naughty web sites you've visited so they can "serve" you with blackmail attempts that are specially customized just for you.

    7) Retargeting
    If you look at a magazine ad for a pair of pants and decide not to buy, you can move on with your life. But look at those same pants in an e-store and they'll stalk you for the next two weeks in retargeted ads wherever you go on the web.

    Haunted pants really freak me out. They remind me of that awful 70s song "You Make My Pants Want To Get Up and Dance."

    Footnote: I know that some of my longtime fans (all 20 of you) were hoping for a reprise of last year's Ten Ways to Celebrate International Print Day, but this year I chose to celebrate in my own private way: Early this morning, I snuck into the bathrooms at the HQ of blatant greenwasher Capital Bank, emptied the toilet-paper holders, and plastered them with "Go Paperless, Go Green" stickers.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2015

    Judge Ridicules Change-of-Address Regulations

    News flash: Even procrastinators and the forgetful notify their electric company when they move. Sitting in the dark and lacking refrigeration have a way of moving that chore to the top of one’s to-do list. But those same people often forget, or purposely avoid, submitting a change-of-address notice to the U.S. Postal Service.

    This all seems to be a surprise to the folks who craft and enforce postal regulations, as a federal judge pointed out last week.

    Judge James E. Boasberg rejected the $7.6 million fine the U.S. Postal Service placed on Southern California Edison, in part because forcing the utility to follow USPS’s Move-Update regulations to the letter would create an “absurd consequence” that would put customers into a “Kafkaesque situation.”

    “It would be an incoherent business practice for SCE to refuse to update a customer’s address at the customer’s own request simply because USPS had an outdated and conflicting address in its NCOALink [National Change of Address] database,” the judge wrote. “Yet such a practice was precisely what USPS required."

    Boasberg had other criticisms of the Postal Service’s actions in the case, but his comments about SCE overriding USPS address data are worth quoting in full (with minimal editing):

    Plaintiff asserted in its Amended Appeal, ‘SCE ha[d] independent business reasons of its own — reasons that are far stronger than those of the Postal Service — to make sure that SCE customer bills are sent to the most current and accurate addresses possible’ — to collect payment on its bills. 

    SCE only manually overrode Postal Service change-of-address information ‘when SCE had good reason to believe that the override would make the customer more likely to receive the mail’— i.e., ‘when requested by the customer.’ This seems entirely sensible, as it would be an incoherent business practice for SCE to refuse to update a customer’s address at the customer’s own request simply because USPS had an outdated and conflicting address in its NCOALink database. 

    Yet such a practice was precisely what USPS required, and despite the incomprehensible nature of this expectation, SCE recognized that its manual-override practices were in violation of the Move Update standard. As Plaintiff pointed out in an internal memorandum, this led to the absurd consequence that ‘customers that want to override the mailing address must discuss the details with the USPS directly and we cannot take action until the USPS notifies us through the monthly update process.’ 

    Recognizing the Kafkaesque situation customers could find themselves in, the SCE memorandum also stated, ‘[W]e need to develop some responses to use when customers inquire about our inability to comply with their requests.’ 

    Such inability to accommodate customers’ requests could potentially raise new problems for those people who — despite affirmatively contacting SCE to update their mailing address — would be unable to obtain billing statements in a timely fashion. Having to deal with the USPS change-of-address system and wait for the Service to notify SCE ‘through the monthly update process’ could even risk customers’ getting stuck with late fees and potential harm to credit reports if their bills were delayed in delivery through no fault of their own. 

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