The smell of ink and paper mingle as presses clatter to life on a bleak south London industrial estate, near where Charles Dickens set the climax of Oliver Twist. But this is not a scene from yesteryear. Danny Miller, the 31-year-old managing director of cutting-edge publishers the Church of London, surveys the completed pages. They capture a love of print that runs through his company's illustrated film magazine Little White Lies and its surf, snow and skate bimonthly Huck. That passion is so infectious, digital giants like Google and Sony PlayStation have asked Miller's team to help them make statements in this supposedly moribund medium. "Print certainly isn't dead," Miller says. "It's just that you have to work harder and make something better and more beautiful for it to get noticed."
The Internet has been cast as print's enemy, stealing readers and advertisers. But the digital revolution has also produced a generation of print publishing companies that is younger than Facebook. "With a few grand you can set yourself up with a digital camera, a decent computer and some software, and you're able to make something using the same equipment as Vogue," says Jeremy Leslie, creator of the magCulture blog and magazine curator for Minneapolis' Walker Art Center's current exhibition "Graphic Design: Now in Production."
Indeed the Web is toppling old barriers. Austin-based culture magazine Gopher Illustrated established itself with help from online crowdfunder Kickstarter. Sites like Newspaper Club make micro runs of one to 300 copies affordable. New business models are also emerging. Literary food quarterly Fire & Knives raised $3,200 for its first 2,000 copies not through advertising but by posting a preview of contents online and opening a PayPal account for subscribers. The title doesn't earn money, but it has led to lucrative work for publisher Tim Hayward, who now has a column in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, has taped a BBC radio pilot and signed a book deal with Penguin for a "staggering" advance. "All of it was about Fire & Knives having established the credibility to do this," he says.
Technical limits are also being pushed. At the Church of London's office, designers are testing a technique that will animate the cover of the fourth issue of Google's Think Quarterly, the theme of which is speed. "We like to make these things difficult for ourselves," Miller says. Think Quarterly, published in a limited edition of 1,500, celebrates print's physicality. So far it has featured pop-up graphics, magnetic covers and heat-activated pages.
The best place to feel the buzz of the new print scene is Printout, a regular event held at London's Book Club bar that attracts a large crowd of 20-somethings in vintage glasses and skinny jeans. Speakers share tips on distribution and when to quit your day job. The event is organized by blogger Leslie and Steve Watson, founder of Stack, which sends subscribers a different new mag each month from Dubai's stereotype-defying style guide Brownbook to Melbourne's quirky Wooden Toy Quarterly.
New York City will soon have its own Printout-style event organized by Jamin Brophy-Warren of Kill Screen magazine and Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post books editor and Stack America's curator. Losowsky is also planning magCulture exhibitions with Leslie for New Delhi and other cities. The Internet, he says, has simply forced would-be publishers to think harder. "It's the best thing that ever happened because it means print can now focus on what it does well."