Ding dong print is dead – almost.

I read this post over at Signal vs. Noise (the 37signals blog). Over Christmas my parents came down to stay with us. Despite it being a busy time my father still took the time to go and get the paper and read it.

This tells me that print isn’t quite dead, but it must be close. I certainly could have acquired most of the information my dad was reading online, and not all just from the online version of the paper. There are two important functions that a newspaper provides – news gathering, and news presentation.

On the news gathering front there are still reporters out there gathering stories and sending them to print, but they tend to be local issues. The big stories from overseas already come through specialised channels such as financial networks or AAP. Eventually the “local” stories will be gathered more democratically and content will be filtered based on our own local preferences (your location is just one aspect of your personality which is used for filtering).

That leaves presentation. Like it or lump it, some people still like sitting down and flipping through the pages of a paper. As time goes by these people will become less and less, but the question is – what do we do in the meantime? Will the news gathering function of news papers survive, and is there enough regular subscribers to news papers to fund production, distribution and what is left of old style news gathering.

6 thoughts on “Ding dong print is dead – almost.

  1. The OberGruppenFuhrer

    The business model for newspapers has traditionally been based on revenue from classified ads.

    Now that no-one uses print for a classified ad anymore, the newspaper companies are in serious grief financially and are diversifying as fast as they can.

    The recent ouster of David Kirk from Fairfax can be seen as a result of not having an answer to this problem (plus not being an ex-journo, which his replacement is, and the chairman of the board is. Journos are a powerful lobby group and they have old mates everywhere in newspaper circles.)

  2. Paul Stovell

    One of my favourite things to do on a Saturday/Sunday is to pick up a copy of the Financial Review, and head down to a cafe for raisin toast (with vegimite) and a latte. Often if I plan to work on some personal projects I bring my laptop, but there’s still something to enjoy about flipping the paper.

    I think there are many things people look for when processing news, and I think it’s a mistake to think just because it’s on a computer it must be superior.

    Quantity – Computers don’t exactly make reading more efficient – my eyes can jump from article to article and scan printed headlines just as fast (if not faster) than Google Reader can jump between feed items.

    Quality – Online news lets you pull news from various sources, but in the end, you can only read so much. Either way, I don’t think there’s higher quality news online than there is in print – it’s all the same stories.

    Timeliness – Internet wins here – I can find out what Paris bought in Sydney 3.1 seconds ago, while I would have to wait a day to read about it in The Advertister (the AFR wouldn’t publish such garbage). But often when I read the paper, I’m reading to get a general sense of what’s happening in some interesting, non-core areas of my life, like finance or defence or politics (or celebrities for some). Turns out that timelines isn’t so important – I’ve even bought Saturday’s paper on Monday if Monday’s is out.

    There’s also a “User Experience” side to reading a newspaper that I quite enjoy. I don’t have to find a powerpoint, I don’t have to scout cafe’s, I don’t have to connect to the net, when it’s sunny I don’t have to shield the screen, I don’t have to worry about spilling crumbs on the laptop, and so on. Given my reading speed is the same, if timeliness isn’t important, what are the advantages of online news?

    I can’t see computer-based news presentation ever completely swallowing printed news. I think the story will be much the same as we see now, with publishers having an online and offline presence. We’ll skim the I.T. sections every day by Google Reader, then pick up the paper on weekends to see who Angelina has adopted. The journalists and institutions will be required in either case, and if the same news is available online and offline, and we still pay 3.20 to cover the cost of printing the paper (on recycled paper) then why would it not survive?

    To put it another way, sure, you could have gotten all of the information he was after online. But would it have made it faster to read? Faster to filter? Better quality news (well perhaps, since it was the Herald Sun :-))? In the end all the computer version saved was a trip to the newsagents – which some people enjoy🙂

  3. John

    i agree with you when it comes to news consumption, but with recreational reading, both fiction and non fiction, there is a simple pleasure in reaching the bottom of a page and turning it over, a small goal reached on the larger goals of finishing a chapter and then ultimately the book, something that clicking that right arrow in adobe just cant emulate.

    maybe the digital natives wont share this same feeling but for those 30+ (25+ maybe) the usability of a book has not yet been surpassed by digital devices

    JW

  4. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi John,

    Has a huge sci-fi (space opera in particular) fan I do tend to carry around a collection of paper-based reading material and the form factor does lend itself to those take-off and landing moments on aircraft where they tell you to turn off your electronic devices.

    That said – good Space Opera gets me because of the story, not the format and in fact I remember reading Accelerando (Charles Stross) in PDF format and being unable to put it down on trams/trains.

    I’m 31 (as of this writing) and I enjoy the content in paper based books but would be just as happy with an electronic format – in fact, when I make book purchases I do check to see if there is an electronic option available. For technical books though, I’ve almost given up reading – I just hit my favourite search engine and look it up on blogs or in the source docs.

  5. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hi Paul,

    I’m surprised at you. But I guess when it comes to talking about the Fin. Review we are still talking about a quality publication with editing standards. I have been known to buy the Fin. Review.

    Longer term I think that digital natives will turn more to electronic formats (whether it is based on current technology or not I don’t know) simply because they have the ability interact with the print. It’ll take time but it will happen.

  6. Mitch Denny Post author

    OberGruppenFuhrer (interesting association there),

    Any industry that has been around for that long is bound to have some fairly well established mates clubs. But commercial pressures not desist and as society changes so will the way we present information.

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