The Future of Print Media
[This text was originaly written for PSE course, during my exchange at University of Lincoln, 2014]
Since the advent of the internet and the surge of social media, print is said to be ‘dead’. Today everything is mobile and news is always a second too late to update their readers. How can a static, physical and slow media adjust itself to survive in a wireless and digital world, updating every second? When Steve Jobs revealed the iPad in 2010 as a device that fulfilled the gap between smartphones and laptops, he knew that it would change all is known about electronic and print media. It was said that the iPad would be the salvation of newspapers and magazines but also, with Kindle, could make print books obsolete. But what is the real truth? This essay will try to answer this question, comparing how three traditional print media are behaving and adapting in the digital world.
A book is a collection of things written, draw, printed, illustrated or with blank sheets, joined together in one place. They are the way of humans perpetuate their thoughts and knowledge to future generations since Antiquity: tablets, scrolls and codex are primitive forms in trying to condense many information in a singular object. Electronic readers such as Kindle, iPad and Kobo could replace print books. They are adaptive to readers preferences, giving them the choice to change font type and size; with a Wi-fi connection and a built-in dictionary is easy to find the meaning of a unknown word; and they are light and compact: with lower weight than a paperback it is possible to carry 1,400 books approximately (Amazon.co.uk, 2014). Just like the invention of movable type machine in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg shaped the form of modern books, it is natural to imagine that electronic books are the next stage in book’s evolution.
Amazon’s Kindle was the first to succeed in introducing a device that was specialized in being a platform for readers. The concept of e-books existed since the first computers were born, but was only with Kindle, launched in 2007, that e-books could compete with the print books. It was not just the design and the e-ink technology that made Kindle a success, but ‘a complete solution for the user’ (Slywotzky, 2011) provided by Amazon. Sony maybe was the first in introducing a e-reader, but was Amazon that made them mainstream. In 2010 it was estimated that had over a 3 million Kindle devices in use (Auletta, 2010). E-book readers reached 12.8 million in 2010, been Amazon’s Kindle the principal choice when it comes to e-readers using e-ink. But printed books still lives, even been surpassed in rate sales in 2012 at amazon.com (Malik, 2012).
In a recent survey, 62% of 16 to 24-years-old prefer print books over e-books (Bury, 2013). The price and the emotional connection are the two main reason why young adults prefer print books. But why a generation so connected with the new technology prefer a old-fashioned device such as print books? Matthew Brady (2013) had some good points about this survey. As a person from this generation (16 to 24-years-old) he prefers books, but do not have a good answer to why he likes more print books than the digital ones.
“The ebook, to me, is just a phase in the evolution of reading technologies — they’re no less “natural” than printed books, which just feel that way because they have been around so long (when did you last see a wild printing press roaming the moors?)”
So we can consider the e-readers and tablets as a new scale in the evolution of printing. Perhaps the question that should be made is not if the digital will substitute the print, but what this devices are doing in changing the common knowledge of what the print media is. The answer could be in other place.
A media with a expiration date
There is no need to be a specialist to notice that newspapers are in decline since the advent of the internet. New generations are not buying newspapers anymore, and old readers are deserting (Can Newspapers Survive?: A Farewell to Print, 2007). The main reason for this is that web is now a key source of news and information. With a twenty four hours plugged society it is difficult for a static media like newspaper to follow the velocity that news spread through the web. Even with a presence online, traditional newspapers are having difficult to continue strong as they were before the internet dissemination.
In the past, journals just have to compete nationally, with three or four major companies dominating the readers interests. Nowadays, a big journal like The New York Times compete not just with other worldwide newspapers, easily accessed through the web, but with every user who uses social media to spread their thoughts, opinions and, of course, news. Emma Duncan, deputy editor for The Economist, in a interview given for a BBC Radio 4 series, explains that when the newspapers was originally putted together, it was a lot of different services that you provided to readers in order to sell them advertising. And that was the problem. When you put, for instance, stock prices in the internet, the hole group of services that is not newspaper began to come to pieces. (Can Newspapers Survive?: A Farewell to Print, 2007). The newspaper incomes always came from two sources: 50% from sales and 50% from advertisement. Web advertisement is cheaper, so do not generate the same earnings for journals with online presence as the print one does. The problem is how the newspaper industry structure itself as a business.
Simon Calder, from The Independent, believes that newspapers have to have another approach. What people want in a newspaper today is a place where they can make sense of ‘all the noise’ they get through different sources during the day. In other words, is analysis, opinions, interpretations, explanations and the news itself working as a ‘back bone’. (Can Newspapers Survive?: A Farewell to Print, 2007). On the other hand, Allen Rusbridger, editor of the British journal The Guardian, thinks that mobile phone is the future. Having a journal multi-platform give the possibility to deliver news in different forms and ways at anytime and anyplace (Can Newspapers Survive?: A Farewell to Print, 2007). Following this thought, either smartphones or tablets may be the savior of the newspaper industry, even changing the concept of what we know as newspaper. (Page One: Inside The New York Times, 2011)
Newspapers are in a transitional period, just like what is happening with the book industry. In the past, news always had to be paid for, however today is available without charge. Publishers of traditional journals are still looking for a way to efficiently charge for news and information on the web or mobile applications. The problem is not just been print, but journalism and business structure too. Tablets and smartphones are being good ways to delivering paid information, but it might be just the first step in the transition.
The new-old-fashion way to do magazines
Magazines are also trying to adapt in a non-print world but, compared with others traditional medias, is having a distinguish and interesting way in doing it. The future is uncertain, but in a short-term magazines have been benefited with internet and other kinds of technology like tablets and smartphones. The success of the prestigious american magazine The New Yorker app on iPad demonstrated that it is possible to have a good presence in both print and digital media, without compromising the content or the experience of the reader. Condé Nast, the publisher of The New Yorker, affirms that 16% of the magazine’s sales come from their app, much of them being from ex-print readers (Leslie, 2013). Comparing both printed and digital version of the same issue of The New Yorker it is notice that the same content is presented with different perspective. Interaction and multimedia resources complements the articles, giving something more in the tablet version than on the print one.
Condé Nast’s The New Yorker may be a case of success, but there is still some reluctance from the public. Robert Newman (2014) says that both readers and magazine makers ‘failed to embrace the new magazine apps in large (or even medium) numbers’. Although there is very interesting things being made and released on App Store, using all the resources that iPad gives, there is still a lot of magazines that are replicas of the print ones. Even been a recent field of production, designers and directors see this so called ‘the future of publishing’ (Leslie, 2013) with different eyes than at the beginning, when the iPad was revealed in mid-2010.
Is not just print magazines that are going digital, but the reverse is happening too. It’s Nice That is a blog which mission is ‘champion creativity across the art and design world’ (It’s Nice That, 2014). To balance the lack of editorial liberty that comes with a daily blog, the founders of the website decided to launch a biannual print magazine called Printed Pages, where maintain the compromise to the print world and deliver more in-deep stories and discoveries, and a annual print magazine called The Annual, that brings the 150 best stories from the blog.
It’s Nice That is not the first in doing the reverse way. The internet, principally blogs, are responsible for the rise of independent magazines in recent years. As Leslie (2013) says: ‘Blog and magazine live side by side, supporting each other through their distinct roles’. The print has a appealing side that neither web or tablets and smartphones have, and it is possible to make unique things on digital platforms that is impossible to reproduce on print. This mutualism that happens in the magazine industry between digital and print only confirms that both of them are not enemies, but ways to deliver content for readers.
Perhaps the iPad is not the salvation that the publishing industry thought it would be. Print books are still preferred by the public. Newspapers are having trouble to adapt, not just because news can be accessed free by the reader, using search platforms such as Google or Bing, but the business structure that was built around the journal is entering collapse. Magazines, which had a good and exciting beginning when the first iPad was revealed, are suffering from the lack of interest of the public and magazine makers in this platform, but are still relevant on print. But what is common in these three print industries is that they are suffering from a crisis of identity. The electronic format, available in the web or tablets and smartphones, led to questions about the concept of books, newspapers and magazines. Traditional publishers, the ones that commanded these media in the past, are having to understand the situation. Answering these questions and adapting their products is the ultimate challenge. This phenomenon can be compared with what happened with the arrival of TV in the 1950s. Much has been said that radio would die, but it adapted through all the different technology that has been invented, and continues to be a relevant communication tool. The print and digital media will have to cohabit in a world full of differences, because there is space for both universes.
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