Lean back two point zero: tablets and documentary photography

I’ve been following @TheEconomist on Twitter for some time, and recently also started following their @LeanBack2_0 blog as well, which has been a great find. Much of the recent discussion around the incredible uptake of tablets was crystalised in a rare interview that The Economist chief executive, Andrew Rashbass, gave recently to The Guardian.

The Economist has been bucking the trend of declining sales and circulation worldwide, which Rashbass cheekily suggests is just good luck. Of course, as well as having quality content that’s well geared to online consumption, the magazine has also been in the right place at the right time, to take advantage of the boom in tablet ownership and the resulting changes in consumption of media (see mashable, milo).

…there was a distinction between what he calls the “lean-back, immersive, ritual pleasure” of reading the Economist in print compared to the “lean-forward, interactive” way people used the site. (The Guardian)

Rashbass and the folks at The Economist have got something right in this distinction between lean back and lean forward reading. Lean back 2.0, or ‘lean-back digital’, is a new kind of media usage that’s afforded by tablets, and pioneered by iPads. I don’t think it’s unwarranted to say that long form digital publishing has come of age.

I believe this is a positive result for consumption of photography. At a time when media companies have largely divested themselves of any real interest in photojournalism (see another article by The Guradian‘s Roy Greenslade, and this editorial By Dirck Halstead), long form publishing could revive an appreciation of viewing photography that’s not just in the service of advertising or media grabs. We’re in a supersaturated media environment, but it’s definitely a case of quantity over quality. There used to be a huge appetite for social documentary and photojournalistic work, that is much less popular now. The demise of magazines like Life are emblematic…

If we can sidestep all of the energy that will inevitably go into maximising revenue from media consumption on tablets, then there will be opportunities for photographic publishers, particularly for out of favour social documentary photographers, to reclaim more ‘eyeballs’, and reclaim a place in the ‘hearts and minds’ of critical media consumers.

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Posted on April 8, 2012

One Response to “Lean back two point zero: tablets and documentary photography”

  1. Drew says:

    There are of course some great online photography magazines: here’s a list of 40 from Smashing: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/04/17/40-amazing-online-photography-magazines/

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