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Is Print Dying in the Digital Age?

January 2008
Is Print Dying in the Digital Age?

Who could have known, until the Internet came along and transformed our lives, that it’d be so easy to broadcast our views to the entire world? ‘Let a million blogs bloom,’ to tweak Chairman Mao’s aphorism, is such an understatement. The Internet is arguably proving to be more revolutionary than the printing press. If Gutenberg made mass literacy possible, what we have these days are countless readers-cum-writers who can, without any payment involved, instantly tap into a universal storehouse of knowledge, and exchange information or opinions with people anywhere.

So how do we see the future now that any enterprising individual with a laptop, and a cell phone that doubles as a camera, can be a one-person media company on the move? The prospects are exhilarating but also, to make no bones about it, a little scary. We could have a scenario where everybody in the room is talking so loudly and insistently that nobody can hear what the others are saying. SILENT, it’s worth noting, is an anagram of LISTEN.

Traditional print media outlets—big and small, widely known and little known—will continue to adapt and evolve in this changing environment, and as always, factors such as talent, reliability, accuracy, investment, “fairness,” and—not least—readability are going to determine whether one should pay attention or not. With the growing reach of online media, according to current thinking, print media’s clout will diminish over time, at least in relative terms. It’s a familiar argument that first surfaced in another context before the advent of television. When radio gained mass appeal, commentators were lamenting the imminent decline, if not demise, of print. As we know, however, not even the proliferation of cable and satellite TV channels has stopped the spread of print publications, especially in countries like India and China. Reportedly, Delhi now has 14 print dailies in English alone—an astonishing number that would have been unlikely just a decade ago.

By Murali Kamma

This is not to deny that circumstances are different today. Especially when it comes to breaking or hard news, as opposed to feature stories, the advantages of the Internet are all too obvious. It is indeed a fast-changing landscape and one cannot predict how things will shake out in the long run. Radio, television, or print cannot afford to have an independent existence outside this highly interactive, all-encompassing online world. With its insatiable appetite, the Net swallows everything.

Still, those who love print publications—and there are innumerable such “ink-stained” fans all over—can look forward to indulging our passion for many more decades. Print remains paramount for us, although online media will continue to play a significant, not to mention complementary, role. Among many virtues, here are three that sum up print media’s power and allure: versatile, mobile, tactile.

It’s true that one can also take a laptop—not just a stack of magazines or a book—to bed, but frankly, that seems more like work than relaxation. Or is this a hopelessly out-of-touch comment? Not quite. Even gizmos like Sony’s E-reader or Amazon’s Kindle, despite the impressive technical advances, cannot match the humble print publication in terms of cost-effectiveness and feasibility. A lot of casual reading, it’s been said, is done in the three B’s (bedroom, bathroom, and beach). Backyards and buses, along with waiting rooms and living rooms, would be other examples of such print-friendly places. Another reason for print’s continuing attraction is the human need to touch and feel and savor. Paper and ink, we could say, are like flesh and blood.

Though the Internet is rising in popularity, according to Deloitte’s 2007 “State of the Media Democracy” survey, traditional media remain deeply engaging to consumers. In a finding that was consistent among the four generations (Millennials, Generation X, Boomers, Matures) included in the survey, 72 percent enjoyed reading print magazines even when the same content was available online. Also worth noting is that “64 percent pay more attention to print ads than those online,” while “76 percent of all consumers find Internet ads more intrusive than print ads.”

Increasingly, we may be living in an electronic-driven world, but print is a medium that’s not going to date even in the digital age. Far from being dead, it seems to be doing all right, considering that more people than ever are reading and writing, not just listening and watching. Long live print!

By Murali Kamma

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