Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is print dying?

Why yes, I'm a big enough journalism nerd that I took a photo of the building occupied by both the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News while wandering around downtown in November.

"____ is Dead." Whether that's rock and roll, or CDs, or the American auto industry, or anything else...there's a lot of proclamations of death out there.

That print media - from newspapers to magazines, back again - is included on this hypothetical Grim Reaper's list is, frankly, saddening to me. Of course this is because I'm the type of person who does pick up magazines, enjoys the feel of glossy paper, loves flipping through a big Sunday newspaper, and has studied both newspaper and magazine design. So, yes, I have a vested interest.

And, scarier still, the death knell has been ringing out in the newspaper business. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer could close down very soon (in fact, one of the ways it might stay open is by becoming online-only), and the downtown Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is for sale, just short of the paper's 150th anniversary. Newspapers in California and Detroit are also not quite doing so well. It's very likely a major metropolitan area newspaper could close this year, and if debtors come calling on the ownership group of the Denver Post, then a major city could be without newspapers.

Why? Well, it boils down to simply, why buy something that's free? In an effort to diversify online and meet the demands of 21st century media consumers, newspapers and journalists are often putting more on their sites than in the paper. Print advertising is shrinking; therefore, smaller papers, lower circulations, etc. in a downward-circling spiral. Online is the new way to go.

But this doesn't mean the printed word will die out. Arguably man's greatest invention (the printing press) will still be required. Why not? Well, look at the coexistence of radio, television, movies, the Internet, and all other forms of multimedia. When television broke big in the 1950s, it was supposed to herald the end of radio; sure, it's not as popular as before, but the radio business hasn't died. Same with television and the Internet - just because the latter exists (and can, ahem, become the other one some places online).

The future is now - digitally-delivered newspapers and magazines, like Sporting News Today, are the evolution of journalism

As well, a likely next step will be magazines and newspapers delivered digitally to your inbox. It makes sense - most newspapers and magazines use publishing software that can publish a .pdf file simply and easily, and in that case, why not deliver the same goods without the hassle of printing up a few thousand issues? I receive a sports newspaper in my inbox each morning, Sporting News' "Today" (pictured above) which weighs in at 30-plus broadsheet pages an issue. You follow the link and go through their reader, which allows you to click and zoom in on articles.

GP Week, a weekly magazine launched last year that follows Formula 1, World Rally and MotoGP racing, works the same way. So does Winding Road, and I'm sure many others. Other sites - like gaming site The Escapist and's "Cover Stories" - also act more like print pieces, but without being .pdf files or using online readers.

But that's significant - all of those pieces of media are nodding back to the tenets of print layout and design.

Things look grim - but, this is also why I say that print will never die. At least, not fully. Just as parents live on in their children and individuals and events live on in recorded history, the lineage and heritage of print media will live on - whether or not it uses ink and paper.

No comments: