Je suis Print
By Carla Kalogeridis
Whether or not you’re a supporter of Charlie Hebdo’s brand of satire, the fact remains that at its greatest moment of vulnerability, this struggling 22-year-old magazine responded yesterday to the heinous attack on its staff by printing 3 million copies of this week’s edition in six different languages.
The significance is this: Charlie Hebdo could have responded to the terrorist strike that murdered the publication’s editor, five of its most famous cartoonists, and six additional staff in any number of ways. It could have launched a hard-hitting social media campaign. Its one surviving columnist could have blogged about it online. It could have closed down. Circulation of Charlie Hebdo had been declining over the years, with a typical print run of 60,000 copies often yielding only 30,000 copies in sales.
Immediately after the attack, the entire world rallied around Charlie Hebdo, standing in solidarity at a widely publicized march, donning T-shirts, waving "Je suis Charlie” banners, and tweeting and posting messages of support.
And Charlie Hebdo’s response back to the world? 3 million printed copies of the very next issue.
Ironically, the very act meant to destroy Charlie Hebdo may have secured its future. French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin pledged 1 million euros (about $1.2 million) of state money to keep the publication going. Google gave a 250,000-euro donation, and the United Kingdom’s The Guardian promised 125,000 euros. So many donations were pouring in this week from the public that the French Press Association had to open a bank account to collect them.
Many will call the latest magazine cover offensive and inflammatory. However, the world is not necessarily supporting the Charlie Hebdo-type of humor as much as it is their freedom to express it. What I find interesting is that in our digital age, Charlie Hebdo decided that its retaliatory message was most powerfully and effectively delivered in print.
The magazine cover was leaked to the press the day before its publication. And yes, the cover cartoon showing a crying Muhammad was posted online before the print hit the newsstands. As I write this blog, people lined up hours before sunrise at kiosks across France and around the world to buy the magazine. Almost immediately, the original print run was raised to 5 million copies as the issue sold out within minutes.
One kiosk owner told The Guardian that he was so inundated with customers wanting copies of Charlie Hebdo that he hid them and sold them only to his regulars.
Print is a privilege!
Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting that people snatched up copies of Charlie Hebdo to prove the value of print; most certainly, it was a show of solidarity for the victims. However, the value of the magazine as an artifact for remembering the event is clear, and this tangibility is something digital cannot offer. Yes, people could have saved a digital image of the magazine cover in their laptops or tablets as a memorial — and many probably did — but perhaps in a subtle way, the purchase of the magazine demonstrates people’s need to align themselves with something they can hold and believe in.
The world already knew what was on the cover. They’d seen it online — but they wanted the print anyway.
Je suis Charlie…Je suis print.