Monday, October 22, 2012

There will always be paid shrills to sooth print publishers with the words they want to hear: Print is Not Dead!

Publishers are a pretty sensitive crowd. They don't like to be told, like Google is doing in France and Brazil, that they can't get their way. They expect everyone outside the business to feel threatened by their power, even when that power only exists in their own minds.

Today's Google News is dominated by word of newspaper endorsements. Most news consumers will only learn of these endorsements through the search engine – and readers simply don't care what these media outlets have to say. The WSJ, the Tribune Company and Murdoch's papers will endorse Mitt Romney, the New York Times and others will endorse Barack Obama, but no one outside the journalism world is paying attention. Newspapers are increasingly owned for the political power they supposedly have, rather than for possible profits, but that power is in the minds of the owners and a small group of politicians who couldn't imagine a world without print newspapers.

Meanwhile, when it comes to those businesses, publishers love to be told that everything will be alright.

Many of the new owners of print properties
bought for reasons other than potential profits
This is the time of year when they gather at conferences and hire the same group of media gurus to come in to hold their hands and tell them that "print is not dead."

As publishers gather to wine and dine, a steady stream of paid shrills stand up to tell these titans of the old media world what they want to hear. I'm sure it is soothing to many of them. But it's all a game. The big name gurus come in and tell them that the young'ens don't have a clue, get paid a few bucks, and everyone leaves the meeting hall feeling a bit better. Then it is back to the real world, a world where readers get their news through Twitter, Google News and just about anywhere but a paper left out on the curb.

I'm not part of the "print is dead" crowd, just as I am not part of the "digital first" crowd. But groups are trying to boil down a complex market into an easy to understand brew.

Print isn't dead, it is evolving. The future of print will be similar to the future of the horse trade: it won't go away, it will simple reduce in size and be limited to specialty publications, a few big players, and will be a niche product that way show horses are. The Mitt Romneys of the world will always read print products. But the rest of the world will move on simply because it makes sense to do so. Print is expensive, eats up natural resources, and is dependent on the postal service or old men in beater cars for distribution.

Yet ten years from now you can be pretty much guaranteed that if you will want a copy of a fashion magazine delivered to you that there will be a publisher who will be there to deliver one – and that print product will be profitable, as well. But the dozens of competitors to that title, competitors that once were profitable because ad dollars were once flowing to print products, will all be gone. In a world where only the leaders will survive, lots of print titles will disappear – at least in print.

It just makes sense. Just a couple of years ago, if you wanted to read the Spanish daily El País you had to either live in Europe, but be luckily to be near one of those huge metro newsstands that existed, but are disappearing. Today you can download EL PAÍS para iPad. What's there not to understand about the inevitability of what will happen to print.

But there are still millions of people around the world who daily enjoy some form of print publication. There is no reason to believe that ever with the growth of tablets that this won't continue. It took a decade for television to pass radio as the media box of choice in living rooms around the world (and radio is still here!).

That is why anyone that wants to claim that print is dead is also a bit wacky. They are talking in short hand. Print isn't dead, and most of them know it. It is evolving, evolving into something publishers don't want, a niche product – one with a limited audience, but an audience, nonetheless.

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