Midnight Pub

The value of text.


Working on a little (long) post for the main blog about the value of text. Why people don't want to pay $5 a month to read an email newsletter but will gladly pay $15 a quarter for a printed magazine (what few remain). How text placed online loses value because it's digital and freely replicated, compared to a paper volume that must be typeset, printed, and shipped. The only thing killing paper text is cost, however printing gives a text value. When news can be emailed/tweeted/streamed the instant it happens there is no point to the effort in printing it out for distribution, but, essays, stories, and valuable commentary on past events for sure carries more weight - things worth solidifying in print. Or is any text worth printing? Does no text have value? The barrier to entry for online publishing does not exist so long as the power is on at the local library.

Just making sure my thoughts are good and unjumbled before typing out all these bigger points. What do yall think?


I have an old blog post on this topic from the attentional value side of things, about reading on paper vs. reading "online." A Kindle can hold more books than can fit in my house, but lack of a physical presence beyond that black slab of plastic is a weak link in remembering what's in my collection, what I'm currently reading, or even to remember to get back to it.

A book on my nightstand or desk is much more likely to get the proper continuity of attention, and triggers a greater engagement with the senses. Especially an old used book that may have seen it's third round through second-hand bookstores.

Despite what may be more economically and distributively efficient, it's just as with writing vs. typing, we are wired to have more of the mind engaged with the former. We value (not in the monetary sense but in how we relate to it) mediums with more presence.



I mean, *do* people happily pay $15/qtr for a printed magazine?

Isn't technical knowledge a meaningful barrier to entry?

Should "value" solely be defined by amount people will pay for something? (cf. cultural impact, maybe)

In my mind, a lot of the value in text that's printed has to do with how I approach consuming print differently.

I handwrite letters to people that I also message online, and look forward to responses in both media. Does printed text feel more personal even when an artifact of mechanical reproduction?



Expanding a bit on what ~maya said. I think it is largely a cultural factor, physical media feels like more care was put into it, which is not necessarily true, there are many renditions that are only possible in digital form and which require a lot of zeal and effort, but perceptions are hard to change. I think this is similar to the case of listening to vinyl records, you can say whatever you wish about analog vs digital, etc, but objectively it has no superior quality to a CD or a pure digitally stored file in a lossless format, however it is the case that when you take a vinyl for listening you are being deliberate about it. You are taking the time, turning the disc, etc, it is a much deeper connection.

Online stuff seem ephemeral/unimportant at first site, that is not always the case, and I think it is changing with newer generations. For myself, I love high quality FLAC music and reading ebooks, but nothing beats the feeling of a good book in an excelent print, and many times I want to listen to a vinyl.



Good analogy with the vinyl listening.



If it is any consolation to the users of this site, I find the text I read here invaluable. Priceless. But also priceless in that I think the involvement of money here (beyond donations for operations) would only serve to *de*-value the text I read here.

This was partially the motivations behind Gemini. A web where monetization is impossible by design results in a form of authenticity that simply couldn't be possible elsewhere. The text written here is personally meaningful to the author simply because there are no other motivations.

  • ~inquiry's elegant but familiar prose
  • ~tskaalgard's personal musings on technology and internet culture
  • ~kyle's devotion to a difficult text based adventure undertaking
  • ~cyborg's helpful attendance in our matrix room
  • ~brewed's commitment to the pub theme
  • ~you For reading this


>>Should "value" solely be defined by amount people will pay for something?

In this instance yes. The value being portrayed here is monetary in the scope of the discussion. A loving text message can have way more emotional value than say a news article about upcoming road closures. The issue is, if I go to a news site and all I can see is the headline "Upcoming Road Closures..." then a "subscribe for $5 a month" below it, do I care enough about that information to pay for it? I pay for text messages to be sent to my phone (all bundled up in the phone plan these days but I'm sure you remember when they were pay per text.) so why wouldn't I want to pay the local news directly for their information that can ultimately affect my commute? Same applies to stories, poetry, books, etc. At what point is my writing worth charging for? When I print it out? I can read the same quality writing in online lit journals as the printed lit journals on my desk.

Some of the idea on this came up after the HuffPost layoffs, some drama about Substack Payments, then rekindled after MEL magazine was shut down. Just interesting things to think about when an outlet that was once easily profitable and held monetary value rapidly dies, the value of the (exact same) content also diminishes.



Yeah, totally fair to scope the question.

I suppose the weird questions get into -- the writing can be the same quality, but do other aspects of the experience of reading also matter? There are studies out there about people's perception of flavors changing with how a meal is plated. If we think people aren't just somehow *wrong* to assign the values they do, then considering those marginal and peripheral elements can be interesting.

( I wouldn't pay for someone's default Microsoft Word settings printed out work, but I do buy a lot of zines, so I'm consciously a fan of presentation. )



Yeah exactly, at what point do we as people or society place value on text when presented? Is it when printed on a copy paper, glossy magazine stock, newspaper, or a leather bound volume? Even types of books are considered valuable based on materials but the cost of producing them is part of that - paperback vs hardback, etc. I also think it's totally natural for people to mentally devalue a work based on presentation.

We pay $5 for a homemade zine because we know the work inside is worth it to us as readers. We know that other people invested time and their own money to produce something of merit to others. (Not too dissimilar to a free to read blog where the owner pays the hosting fees and can get by on donations for maintenance etc, in this case the $5 covers the shipping and cost to print at kinkos or the library.)

The issue with digital text -hosted online- is once it gets too popular it becomes more expensive to host, and that's where we get the subscriptions/ads/sponsors just like newspapers and magazines had to. But then that paywall goes up and we all freak out, I do it too. I click on a NYT article and can't get past that first line of text and rage quit the page XD. That's one of the things I'm trying to figure out. Why do I get upset when the ebook is only a dollar less than the paperback? It's the same story. Why do I think paying for an email newsletter is bonkers? I understand the work that goes into them, I know better. It's wild.



The one email newsletter I've paid for was written by a woman with a classics degree in a very lyrical style, and I'm shy about seeking that stuff out so it was delightful to have it presented to me every so often in digestible sizes. There's lots of it in books, but it was more of a novelty presented among all my other daily notifications.