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Print magazines & music CDs: Why I’m going back

Brian Sullivan
Tuesday, 7 Jan 2014 | 1:39 AM ET

When the iPad first debuted I was an eager buyer. The device was gorgeous and the opportunity incredible: access to nearly unlimited amounts of everything, all the time. Not much later I swore off print, allowing most of my physical newspaper and magazine subscriptions to lapse, pleased with the thought of so much content in the palm of my hand. Less mail. Less paper. Less recycling. Perfect!

However, perfection came with a problem: less reading.

People buy the new Apple iPad Air at the Apple Store in New York City.
Getty Images
People buy the new Apple iPad Air at the Apple Store in New York City.

At first I was mesmerized by the interactivity and access of digital publications. I still am. The multimedia aspects of ads in these formats can be cool and are impossible to replicate on paper. Who doesn't love an animated deodorant ad? Except I wasn't seeing many animated deodorant ads, or anything for that matter. Much of that amazing content was hidden away under the iPad's dark screen or inside an app. Out of sight literally became out of mind, which made it easy to forget what I was paying to read.

Then I watched my 10 year old.

Still without her own tablet or phone, she gets a few magazines in the mail. She loves it; she gets excited every time they're delivered (hand-delivered by mail). We sit and talk about what she's reading. Who knew there were so many types of lemurs? I was missing out. Tablets, amazing as they are, are solitary.

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A few months ago I made the decision to reactivate a few of my print subscriptions. Not all of them, but most of my favorites. Soon I realized that what was sitting on the table - right in front of my face - was much more likely to be picked up and (gasp) read. The articles may not have all of the bells and whistles that the digital versions have, but at least I'm seeing the articles. My "click through" rate on print ads is approximately 100 percent.

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To complete my apparent transition back to five years ago, I've also returned to buying more music on CD (that's "compact disc" for you youngsters) and even LPs (that's "long play" record for hipster newbies). As someone who actually owned the first Rio Diamond mp3 player, it feels odd to go back in time. Odd, but good. I'd forgotten how sweet the sound is. Thank you Horace Silver.

I love the flexibility of digital – streaming music around the house is fantastic. But I can do that with the music on those little silver discs. Better yet, I can stream or listen to that freed music on any darn device I want, untied to a specific ecosystem. Bonus: my kid can check out my near 30-year collection of music without scrolling down a computer screen. Why were the furs psychedelic? Which member of this group is named Pink? It's a library of the musical life that can be unboxed even after I'm put in one.

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Apple, listen up, because Amazon is getting it right. In another genius move, when you buy a CD, Amazon often lets you download the digital version right away. Consumers get the best of both worlds. You can feel young and old in one purchase.

The trends for print circulation, ad rates and CD sales indicate that I may well be the only one in America returning to the old way. It's a hard time to be physical in a digitally ephemeral world. Print and CD sales trends are likely to get worse before they get better, if they get better.

Follow me on Spotify if you will. It's great, especially to discover music, and I'm there. But right now I'm going to pour a glass of wine, throw in a CD and sit down with the latest issue of whatever magazine is sitting on my coffee table. And hey, spills are less costly this way. Besides, recycling day doesn't come for a week.

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