The statement "Print is Dead" sounds as if I am trying to be sensational, but let me clarify, print as we know it today, is changing, the traditional media we hold between our hands and sullies our fingers will disappear.
Developments in e-ink or digital paper from the likes of Sony, Plastic Logic, E Ink Corp, and Phillips, are changing the way we read and ultimately interact with traditional print media. Soon, you will be able to pull out your purchased e-reader, unscroll the page, and read this morning news paper, this weeks local, or this months national magazine, then roll the display back up and throw it into your brief case. How soon you may ask? That is for the technological soothsayers, engineers and marketers to determine, and it’s likely you may see the devices this year. All the companies I mentioned above have working mockups; the current goals are A5 paper dimensions (5.8x8.3 inches) at 100 dpi resolutions, with larger sizes and higher resolutions to follow quickly in 2006, and mass adoption once fine tuning is complete in late 2008. And as for the delivery method, it is already in place; it's called the Internet.
Today I can already get content from a number of vendors; most newspapers already have an online edition, I can get a daily reproduction from newsstand.com or read the Wall Street Journal digital edition. I can scan a slew of magazines from zinio.com, books from iTunes.com, eReader.com, amazon.com, or public domain works from GutenbergProject.org. I can visit one of the many ebook sellers online at Abobe Online’s eMall, or even download self published works from lulu.com.
The cost of this shift to the consumer will be negligible. At the outset you will buy a black and white eReader with four scales of grey from your favorite consumer brand name, and use it until it either breaks, malfunction or is upgraded to a newer model, much like the Walkmans of yesteryear, or the iPod of today. The per unit price of the actual publication will drop to reflect cost saving obtained vs. traditional production methods and distribution cost, but this savings is nullified when added to the initial investment of the actual eReader across its lifetime.
With the advent of any new technology, the way media is created will change as well. In the case of newspapers, both morning and evening editions, and magazines, both weekly and monthly editions will slowly disappear, and instead, updated stories will be reflected every time you sync your newspaper or magazine with your publication provider. Bloggers will become main sources of niche news, and breaking stories, until mainstream media picks up the feed. Television news will be viewed at anytime (time shifting), and will appear more and more like today’s video blog casts. We are already seeing the blurring of this line within television with the appearance of the iTunes video store, where you can buy last nights “Desperate Housewives” or whatever television show is your personal poison.
I would expect the Internet media to become the first adopters; since the technology already relates to the way they operate today, with television and radio to follow respectively (we are already seeing television dip its little toes in the waters with first run programming on the iTunes video store) since these media operations are similar to the Internet model. Newspaper will be the last to change... as they have an institutional mentality that will be difficult to shift, the hesitation to view blogging as a journalistic medium, and a unwillingness for open commentary on those newspaper sites that do operate blogs, are two actions that support this reasoning... until the only choice is change or fail.
We, Joe Q. Public often forget that newspaper and television news programming isn't a free source of information... they aren't public services... but money making ventures, that must make money to pay the salaries of those who provide the services we expect. Though oversimplified, newspapers and magazines make the lion’s share of their incomes from advertising, and a smaller portion from subscriptions. Television and radio rely solely on advertising to fill their coffers. The challenge to the media from the next cycle of technological change will be how to make money from these new mediums. An example would be in newspapers, where traditionally an ad is sold either for the entire market, or for preselected divisions of that same market. In this future model, newspapers will still be able to sell ad space to a specific demographic, region/zone, or zip code, but also to a specific ip address, email addresses, or specific subscriber using location based technologies. Newspapers could even sell the same ad space to different customers for different needs, just think, the ad on the inside of A7 could be different if your demographic skews a certain way than your neighbors ad on A7 if his ip address is a block owned by earthlink. Two different ads or coupons, same space, same edition, different set of criteria to attract two different types of advertiser to sell to two different types of Joe Q. Public.
Another challenge for the traditional media organizations is the proliferation of news aggregators or RSS readers. RSS readers pick up only the headlines and copy of a news article, not the advertising, so how does one recoup the cost of producing that article if the newsreader is only 'grabbing' the relevant text for the story? One solution is to start embedding advertising with the story itself. Though this notion may be viewed as heresy to the traditionalist analogy of a separation of church and state equates to a separation of the advertising and editorial divisions, it can be done after the journalist has finished writing the piece, and advertising inserted in to the article by the advertising division, and all of this is done before it is released for publication.
Change is good, and change of this kind, when applied to traditional media, is good as well, but with change comes challenge. Big media will need to understand that the rules have changed, that just because they were the only source of information before, doesn’t make them the heir to the vehicle of dissemination of information in the future. Bloggers are finding out that barriers to entry have come down, and small media organizations with large audiences are starting to see their impact, these are the companies embracing changes as outlined here, and they are the companies that are going to lead us on this new journey.
With further thought one might start to see how the implications are far reaching, just think of what you will be able to carry on your person instead of what you carefully chose to carry today.
A student carrying a single eReader, loaded with their entire semesters textbooks, and notes from their teachers or professors, as well as their own notes.
The professor or teacher who carries an eReader loaded with all the texts they teach from, including their entire wealth of notes, in addition to easy access to students digital homework, and email correspondence.
A businessman flying cross country carrying his entire volume of work from the office, including presentations to the next client, along with copies of his home town newspaper, and that of the town he is visiting, in addition to myriad of personal and trade magazine neatly stored in one compact eReader.
You and me, Joe/Jane Q. Public, sitting on a Sunday morning on our balcony, sipping coffee, with an eReader in hand scanning the weeks news, or just perusing the latest sales from the digitally reproduced inserts.
Many will read the opening lines of this article and forgo reading it based solely upon the title, they will assume that since I postulate the position that “Print is Dead”, that reading is also a dying art. But though print as we know it is dying, the art of reading is entering a new renaissance.
Editors Note: Today, as we went to press with this article, LG Philips and E Ink announced a working manufacturing prototype, not a mockup. The future is here today.
-About the Author:
Drew Moynihan is an 18-year veteran of the media industry having straddled creative, technological, and advertising positions in senior management. His latest venture is an internet publishing company, BAM 2 Media, located in Austin, Tx.