By April 12, 2012

Print? It’s Dead, Jim…

Quote of the day from RJGnyc…

Saying that the web has killed print because the New York Times is having problems is myopic.

The above comment came from Slate, a digital-only magazine, and I found it hard to ignore the irony involved in proclaiming that print lives… on a web site.

But ironic or not, we’re still left with the fundamental question…

Is print dead?

Well, I suppose we could ask Amazon, king of retailers, who recently announced that digital book sales have now exceeded sales of all print titles, both hardcover and paperback combined.

Or we could ask John Grisham, author and novelist, who confirmed this by stating in a recent interview that “E-books will be half of my sales this year.”

Or we could ask the magazine publishers who have seen year-over-year double-digit declines among their readership.

Or we could visit the empty newsrooms of newspapers that have either closed their doors or been forced to merge with their competitors just to stay alive.

Or we could visit the equally empty husks of abandoned retail outlets. “We’re losing bookstores like crazy,” Grisham adds. “Book sales are down overall because we lost 800 stores last year with Borders. We’ve lost 2,000 stores in the last 15 years.”


Ah, yes. Borders. The poster child of the coming collapse.

Borders sold books, and they got hit with Amazon and home delivery and highly competitive pricing. They sold CDs, and they got hit by iTunes and torrents. They sold DVDs, and they got hit with Netflix and Redbox and torrents. They sold magazines, and got absolutely flattened by the Internet.

Every aspect of their business saw sales drop. Even the coffee shop saw sales drop as traffic dwindled.

Like the big chain music stores before them, they simply didn’t have a chance.

The web certainly killed them.

Other factors…

Other, non-digital stress factors contribute as well.

Decreasing demand for publication papers in the U.S. are paradoxically resulting in higher paper prices. With reduced sales, factories close and others have less to invest in new technologies and methods of production. Print production costs rise.

The USPS is another major factor in the equation, threatening close post offices and to delay and curtail deliveries, which would put even more strain on newsweeklies and other magazines that depend upon timely delivery.

The big retail stores and groceries, faced with delining print sales, have reduced the amount of floor and shelf space dedicated to books and magazines. End result? Fewer books and magazines being sold.

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Fiscal and budgetary problems are the primary reason, but membership is also down. And those libraries bought books and magazines and newspapers.

Book and magazine and newpaper publishers, stuggling to cope, reduce head counts and page counts in order to cut costs… which reduces quality and value and ultimalely reduces readership even more.

Faced with plummeting circulation numbers, advertisers balk and either demand better deals or go elsewhere. Ad revenues decline. More stress.

And classified ads for goods and jobs and services, once the mainstay of newspapers and local magazines, have been totally devastated by the rise of eBay and Monster and Groupon.

More stress. More cuts. Fewer sales and subscriptions.

It’s a vicious cycle.


Don’t get me wrong. Books are not dead. Magazines are not dead. However, print, as a medium, is rapidly becoming an obsolete format, much like CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, videotapes, LaserDiscs, 8-tracks, and LPs.

Today we have Kindles and Kindle apps. Nooks. The iPhone and iPad. Smartphones and tablets.

In just a few scant years we’ve completely changed how the majority of books are purchased, delivered and consumed. We’ve changed how news is created and consumed. And we’ve changed how feature articles are created, delivered, and consumed.

And, yes, the “technologically savvy” have been predicting this for some time. But the speed at which we’ve reached the tipping point is staggering.

Consider. Prior to the introduction of the Kindle, a few people read ebooks on their computers, or on PDAs, but those numbers were minuscule.

As of this writing, the first Kindle is just five years old, introduced in 2007. The first Kindle app for the iPhone? Four years old. The iPad? Just two years old.

And yet over half of all book sales here in the US are ebooks?

Think about it.

We’ll always have Paris…

Despite all of the above, I suspect that there will always be printed books. Cherished leather bound copies of favorite stories. Coffee table books. Art books.

The automobile rules the road, but even today there are still people and companies who make horse-drawn carriages and buggy whips.

But print as the dominant method of delivering content?

Print, as in chopping up trees so we can ship tons of newsprint directly to the litterbox and trash can?

It’s dead, Jim. Or it soon will be.

And a failure to see that is what’s really myopic.

[Via Slate]

So what do you think? Is print dead or just on life support? Leave a comment and tell me why.


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