This issue was being created just as the 2012 election season was winding down. I wasn’t sorry to see it go, because it seemed like much of the discussion favored style over substance. However, whatever your political persuasion, one thing became acutely clear in the post-election analysis: The demographics of this country are shifting significantly, and those who fail to recognize that and strategize accordingly do so at their peril.
We’ve had our own shifts going on in aviation, with the abrupt departure of Rod Hightower from the top job at EAA, and ongoing debates about the direction certain of the alphabet groups will take as they move forward. In this economic climate, who could blame businesses—any business—for trying new things, even at the risk of potentially alienating some of the very constituencies they serve.
A business entity is in some ways like a marriage or family. Indeed, until recently EAA, for example, had been headed by members of the family that founded it, which made the hiring of an “outsider” a couple of years ago all the more interesting. But as is the case in any marriage or family, no one except the actual participants are privy to what happens in that unit and why, and sometimes even they don’t completely understand it. In this sense, speculation about the motivations for their actions is somewhat pointless. But presumably they’re acting in their own best interests, and one of those interests is surely trying to promote the growth of general aviation, which is facing a maturing population and increasing barriers to entry.
Whether in business or in life, change is inevitable, and it can be difficult. People often don’t like it and find it challenging to accept. Nowhere is that truer than in the publishing world, and this magazine has not been immune from its effects. During my tenure, we’ve seen the move from a mix of black-and-white and color pages to full color throughout, and in the ’90s we started using digital production methods rather than relying on film. We went from being mostly text (with far fewer photos and illustrations) 20 years ago to a much more sophisticated (and hopefully more engaging) product today. These changes have improved the quality of the magazine and the efficiencies of how it’s produced, and the magazine will undoubtedly continue to evolve as technological innovations present additional opportunities.
Recently Newsweek announced that it would become a solely digital product. The publisher acknowledged that the magazine would lose subscribers in the changeover, but the company had done the math and claimed it was the only rational decision. It’s easy to understand why digital publishing has put a gleam in publishers’ eyes for some time, considering the reduction in production and distribution costs.
The same holds true of book publishing. Those of us fortunate enough to still be around in another 10 or 15 years will be consuming the majority of our reading material on electronic portable devices. I’m a huge fan of books and magazines, but having moved more boxes of books more times than I can count, the prospect of having my collection available on one small tablet device does hold a certain appeal. And digital content consumed this way has numerous benefits that the printed product doesn’t have, such as bookmarking, links to outside materials, a dictionary at the ready, etc. Further, consider that the kids born today will be “digital natives,” meaning that they will have grown up with digital media as the norm.
A recent episode of Charlie Rose featured a panel of long-time publishers discussing the evolution of the industry. At least two of them, both of whom had been in traditional publishing for years but had now moved into e-books, claimed personal collections of more than 10,000 printed books. But even the most ardent supporters have seen the writing on the wall. None of them believed that printed magazines and books would go away completely, but they speculated that hardbound and trade paperback books would become increasingly less common as consumption of digital media becomes more so.
There are reasons to be hopeful about these developments. When the quantity of printed books is reduced, the quality may increase. Currently, books are made for mass consumption, and this shows in how they’re designed. When they are made for a more selective audience, they may become more beautiful, as they once were.
Don’t panic. I’m not suggesting that KITPLANES® will go all digital anytime soon. But the only constant in life is change, and we’d better get used to it.
Mary Bernard – The product of two parents with Lockheed Aerospace careers, Mary grew up with aviation, prompting her to pursue pilot training as an adult. Her father, a talented tool-and-die maker and planner, instilled in her an abiding interest in how things are built. For more than a decade, she has been a contributing writer and Managing Editor for KITPLANES®.