Print Is Not Dead, Darwin Says So

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The market can only take so much and there will always be specific niches to fill. That being said, let’s also remember that geeks have been declaring the death of print since at least 1984.

But really, we might call it natural selection for the media industry. More on that later.

If you were just a baby when the movie "Ghostbusters" came out, you’d be about 23 today and most likely immersed in a digital reality. And there’s a chance, a small one, you remember life before the computer mouse.

I wasn’t much older than you, just seven, and the joke made in that movie was lost on me then. It’s a short joke, very quick and subtle and intended for a tiny audience:

Janine Melnitz:  You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too.
Dr. Egon Spengler:     Print is dead.

Twenty-three years and countless new print publications ago.

I’ve made no secret about my skepticism that print is not just alive, but thriving in its own way, and the crowd you would expect to disagree did disagree. Not to pigeon-hole anybody.

And this opinion of mine runs directly counter to my current profession. I’m an online writer. Why that is doesn’t matter. Let’s go on with an examination of the print medium.

Before and since my diatribes on the vitality of print, there have been somewhat harrowing announcements from papers-of-record and from prominent magazines that their print doors are shutting while online doors are opening.

The San Francisco Chronicle would be the most resonant example, not to mention Perfect 10’s wailing in court about the death of their business model in an age abundant online porn.

The truth is that for longer than many of us can remember, the publishing industry was not only difficult and cost-prohibitive to get into, but the vast majority of new publications failed. This was the case long before the Internet.

Of course it makes sense from a cost and risk perspective to go online. It takes away a lot of headaches. Print is expensive and only a few can survive.

But it is lucrative, even still for those that do it right. Or perhaps Rupert Murdoch just spent $5 billion on a brand name instead of a newspaper (admittedly, Dow Jones is more than the Wall Street Journal, but ask people on the street which they’ve heard more about).

Part of the argument against the death of print is that there is still very much a need for local publications, especially in smaller regions, but also in places where paper costs nearly nothing to purchase and is easier and less complicated than a device you have to make sure is charged and functioning. So the value is there, in the niches and practicality of newspaper reach.

Another part of that argument is that for the past few decades (the decades before the digital age), the print world has been saturated by expensive glossy magazines with especially narrow niches born and failing on a regular basis. Even then, many of them succeeded because there was nowhere else to get that particular information in that much detail.

And then, the Internet happened. Niche was cheaper, readily available, and earnestly sought by niche enthusiasts.

Think of it in Darwinian terms: a habitat is so saturated with competition that some competition is ultimately forced to leave; adapt a niche, or perish. Just like there are now humans as well as chimps, there will be print as well as Web.

No comment on which is the chimp.

So, Henry Blodgett announcing that "newspapers are screwed" makes me think that maybe someone a couple million years ago looked at the gorilla with the same sympathy. But also I would think that, Blodgett being a financial mind, he would understand the Darwinistic culture of things in the market.

He might also note the saturation that is currently seeping through the seams of the Internet – everybody’s a reporter these days.

But one thing online reporters and publications will have trouble taking from the mainstream print media (believe me, I know – who do you think Larry Page and Sergey Brin are more willing to grant interviews to?) is the mainstream print media’s (i.e., the papers of record) authority in the journalism world.

When anybody can be a reporter, nobody takes reporters seriously, which leaves the sensible portion of the population to look towards the established truth-revealers. (This is a different topic, of course, than the value of printed books, which, as long as there are farts as old as I am, always will be preferred over a lighted, electricity-powered screen that’s hard on the eyes and less reliable and metamorphic – you know, birdcage liners and such.)

So what I’m trying to say in the above paragraph, in my long-winded way, is that newspapers carry a certain gravitas beyond even broadcast anchors that people see as credible and more valuable than just about any online source. (Just watch your professor’s face, young-uns, when you choose a Wikipedia or even Huffington Post source over the Washington Post.)

"What prospects then for the handful of high-quality producers of journalism who survive to ring in this future? Far greater pricing power. More money," says strategic analyst Seamus McCauley on his Virtual Economics blog.

Yes, because the specialists reign supreme in competitive environments.  


Print Is Not Dead, Darwin Says So
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