Oh, print. Where have you gone, and more importantly, where are you going? In 1475, the first English book was published, and print began to filter to the masses. A mere 150 years later, the first newspaper came out.
Compared to the slow rise of print over many hundreds of years, the rise the web has been fast and furious. From a prototype invented by military tech geeks into the 1960s, the early versions of the internet morphed into the World Wide Web, an international community. In the 1990s, the web began to take hold and change into what we see today: a diverse, sometimes beautiful, sometimes deeply challenging, and always changeable community of communities.
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This online world has not entirely eclipsed the venerable world of print, but the rise of the web has certainly spelled significant changes for publishers, writers, and readers. The American Press Institute states that readers who follow the news do so slightly more often via the web versus the traditional print-based newspaper or magazine.
Will online content make print obsolete? Declines in print journalism have led to precipitously falling advertising revenues for some players in traditional print media such as newspapers. Recently, the New York Times once again sounded a death knell for print, saying that the retro comeback of print wasn’t going to take.
In 2013, Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, an event that some saw as a strong vote in favor of the future of print media. Writing in the New York Times that year, David Carr saw the large investments made by digital investors in print media as a sign that print could still have a future. Not so any more.
Now, Carr points out that large companies are fleeing from print, divesting of their print assets. From Time Warner’s divestment of Time Inc, the publisher of People and Sports Illustrated, to companies such as Tribune that are creating separate publishing companies that will sink or swim by themselves, investors are getting out of the print world.
The print companies that have been asked to go it alone are in a challenging situation, as they’re already working with a slim group of staff and with pared-down budgets. Substantial layoffs and budget cuts have become common in recent years. At the Gannett newspaper group, a third of the staff have been laid off in the last three years. Saving print journalism while working on a shoestring staffing budget will be challenging. Some print media are trying to move into digital journalism, but with those slim staffing numbers comes a more limited capacity to diversify.
Will readers rally to save print journalism? Carr’s not holding out much hope. As he points out, good things come to an end. Remember the days of VCRs and Friday nights down at the movie rental joint? Those days are a retro memory, and Carr points out that even our beloved, historic print journalism may suffer from death by free market. While readers may love the image of a lazy read of the Sunday morning paper, they’re turning to more rapid and convenient methods of getting their news.