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Is print dead?

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I’m in Barcelona for Nokia World, and at the little “Blogger’s Lunch” today we got to discussing various trends in entertainment, media, content distribution, and other things of interest to folks who spend the bulk of their day keyed into the online world. Several of the folks at the table exclaimed “Print is dead!”, going on to say “Someone just needs to tell the newspaper industry.” Robert Scoble, everyone’s favorite Robert, proudly pronounced that his son would never read a newspaper.

I don’t disagree that online distribution of content is where the future is at, but there’s an awfully wide gap between that future and the final nail in the coffin of printed newspapers. It irks me somewhat that the “blogging community” can be so myopic about their little world that they make such pronouncements, without any obvious understanding of the realities of other communities, other kinds of consumers.  Even in the good ol’ US of A, broadband penetration is only a meager 25% of the population, making online content distribution easily available to only a quarter of the citizens.

The discussion morphed pretty quickly into a conversation about the continued importance (and current relative lack) of journalistic ability.  I was reminded of a conversation I heard on NPR (can’t find the link now, darnit), where a former CBS programming executive made the claim that people want someone to pick the day’s news, organize it for them, and present the most important bits.  I don’t know that the traditional news outlets necessarily accomplish that task, but I do know that a large population of people explicitly do not want to have to sift through multiple writers, with different voices and styles, in order to learn about the world around them (assuming, of course, that the average American citizen does, indeed, want to know about the world around them).

We touched, briefly, on long-term archiving, and data longevity, but it took me awhile to really nail down what it is that I like so much about newspapers and print: discovery.  When I unwrap Christmas ornaments from my parents’ house, I get to read pages out of a newspaper printed decades ago.  It’s an easy, no-cost way to see a glimpse of the past.  Looking at a newspaper — any section of any newspaper anywhere in the world — is simply not something I’m going to intentionally do online.  But if I find the medium repurposed to some other use, I will absolutely spend a couple minutes learning about what was deemed important at that time.  Besides, you can’t wrap a Christmas ornament in a computer, PDA, or e-reader!

I think claims that “print is dead” greatly undervalue the specific, tangible benefits of printed works. One of the long-standing arguments for books is that you can give them to friends and family when you’re done reading them. Similarly, one of the benefits of a printed newspaper is that you can leave it sitting in a company breakroom for others to enjoy while they scarf down their tuna sandwhiches. I just don’t see a large number of people taking their Amazon Kindle’s into work with them to read on their lunch breaks.

So what do you think, readers?  Is print — specifically newspapers — really dead? Or are the bloggers too focused on the bright and shiny stuff that puts food on their tables?

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