Whether or not print dies, its business model will. Physical wares—newspapers, books, magazines, discs—will no longer be the primary or most profitable means of delivering and interacting with media: news, fact, entertainment, or education.
It’s not that print is bad. It’s that digital is better. It has too many advantages (and there’ll only be more): ubiquity, speed, permanence, searchability, the ability to update, the ability to remix, targeting, interaction, marketing via links, data feedback. Digital transcends the limitations of—and incorporates the best of—individual media.
More important than any of that, of course, is that digital reduces the incremental cost of production and distribution of content to zero. And as every newspaper can tell you post-Craigslist: It’s impossible to compete with free.
The keys to making the transition: Advertisers will realize that their customers are digital and that marketing online, in a post-scarcity economy, must be cheaper and exponentially more efficient and effective. Technology and connectivity will advance, making content an everywhere experience. And print addicts will (sorry to be so blunt) die.
Note that in 2008, online revenue at the Los Angeles Times surpassed the cost of its (reduced) newsroom, making it possible to produce the "paper" as a sustainable digital enterprise without the expense of creating and distributing a physical product. There is the beginning of the end of print.
Given that I run an online-only news site here in Silicon Valley, you’d think I’d be arguing that print is already dead.
But the technology business teaches you that nothing ever goes away completely. Mainframes, Fortran, and paper all survive, despite PCs, Java, and the paperless office.
What’s really changing is the role of content itself.
Online, it’s participation that becomes the product, with the content merely an ingredient of the real product. And print becomes a great vehicle to promote that new, experiential online product.
Print is physical, and has potency you’d be foolish not to acknowledge: pictures that live outside a screen, copy you can carry with you and leave behind. Glossy magazines with pretty pictures of things you want and the alternative weekly that’s sitting next to the subway or lunch spot will be fine. The Sunday New York Times (NYT) will still be delivered.
Now, it’s also clear that there’s going to be less print, and the old pecking order of online being the handmaiden to print will be reversed.
But you’ll be able to get your newspaper. On Sunday. Mostly. It’s just good business.
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