In Defense of Print


One of my previous posts was about how we view written content via mobile devices. It got me to thinking about the debate of whether or not “print is dead?” This too is a question pondered by Stephanie (@stooffi) from the Penn-Olson blog and in which I’ve borrowed some points of data from. It’s also contemplated by Steve Laube in another excellent post.

They both share my sentiments that they don’t see print going the way of the dodo however we differ somewhat in our rationales. What I’d like to do here is offer some observational reasons as to why I think print isn’t dead to augment Stephanie and Steven’s very good more data driven arguments.

If you subscribed to conventional wisdom you might think that let’s say that within 10 years magazines would be ancient history with books to follow shortly behind them. You might think that certainly about newspapers and there is a decent case for that.

Jeff Gomez author of “Print is Dead” would have you think that we’re on the dawn of a print apocalypse.

Some quick stats to initially contradict those who firmly believe print is bound for extinction (from @stooffi via Sketchee):

  • 93% of adults in the U.S. read magazines
  • 96% of adults under 35 in the U.S. read magazines
  • Book sales are up 11.4%
  • Sales for higher-education publishing have increased 27.4%
  • E-book sales have increased 204% (keep in mind this is a category that didn’t exist a mere few years ago so I’d take that growth with a grain of salt)
  • 60% of consumers say they plan to purchase a tablet device within three years (what isn’t known is if they say they will purchase that device in place of a laptop)

Considering the data alone, I’m not so quick to put a nail in print’s coffin. With this being said, I’d like to offer a defense of print that is more observational relative to behavior/culture.

The first is case for print is that print is tactile.  People like tactile.  People comment on things like paper stock and gloss or matte finish with reverence.

The second is people like pictures. Big glossy, shiny, pretty pictures.

To be fair, I think it’s necessary to place a distinction on content that can be read versus content that can be viewed. The former would be lifestyle/niche magazines and the latter being more business, news and to some degree sports publications.

Logic would tell me that business, news and sports news magazines very well might have one foot in the grave because I think there’s a dramatic shift occurring in how people consume that type of content as my previous post “Where I’d like to read it” would suggest. As I write this, US News & World Report announced it is shuttering its print edition. And to add even further support this consider this recent article from clearly indicating that among smartphone users mobile is exactly how they like to consume.

However, I think we’re highly unlikely to see the demise of magazines entirely anytime soon. In fact in July 2010 there were 68 new magazine titles added versus 34 in July 2007. The difference is that most of the new titles were largely specialty magazines or magazines to serve a certain niche (often content to be viewed).

Consider a reason why? Have you been in a teenager’s room lately? If you’re looking at BOP or Tiger Beat online via an iPad, you can’t rip out the picture of Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and put it on your wall. Or rip a picture out from eurotuner of that sweet tuned BMW M3. Or the rad picture of Shaun White flying out of a half-pipe.

In addition, I believe a good amount of people still appreciate the “coffee table” book. This and certain magazines are a way we brand ourselves.  For many they’re forms of “decoration” carefully placed around the home.

Chief among the reasons I don’t see print as going away anytime soon is that we haven’t changed how the youngest learn to consume print. Yes, my two year old niece can take out her Dad’s iPad, turn it on, flip three screens and start a game but how she learns to consume print will likely not change anytime soon. In fact, recent research would suggest that college students haven’t taken to eReaders as expected. And this might be a logical place to begin to see a cultural shift.  I’m still not entirely sure we’ve crossed the chasm with eReaders/tablets. There I said it.

Granted my father-in-law is 74 and has had a Kindle since its inception. This inspired me to ask a few people with eReaders why they bought it.  Number one reason? Because they travel a lot and that way they don’t have to carry a physical book. Airport bookstores consider yourselves warned. However, this lumps those who purchase eReaders/tablets into a specific category. In this case the eReader fill a specific need that people are willing to change how they consume content.

I’ll offer one final example of how embedded the way we learn to consume written content is.

I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. The two of them participate in a program called the “Thousand Book Club”.

This is a program where at their elementary school there are some 200 bags of books.  Each bag has 10 children’s books. The goal of the program is to either read (or be read to) 1000 books by the time they finish kindergarten.  It’s a wonderful program as you might suspect but the point is that it’s a heavily quantitative experience with books.

At the end of the day we’ve only barely begun to change how we interact with written content and until that happens drastically, I don’t see print going away.

What do you think?

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  1. Lowell says:

    Mark, I agree. Print’s not going anywhere. It’s going to take at least 4 to 5 new generations to get kindelized enough that they shun newspapers, books, printouts or any other things. DM as a market is about $50 bil or so this year – I know it was $56B in 2007 and assume that it would’ve dropped a bit. Paper’s will be around in our lifetimes for sure but after that it’s going to be interesting. I don’t think the Jetsons read much, did they?

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