Print? So what?

Scott Donaton writes an important column in AdAge — important especially because of his audience: the advertisers who, together with publishers, cling stubbornly to old media and thus hold back the transformation to the new. He takes off on the Wall Street Journal’s strategic planning and asks when — not whether — the print version should die:

But certain forms of media that are currently print-based, particularly daily newspapers, must explore the possibility that there are more reader-friendly and cost-efficient ways to produce and distribute their content.

It’s still surprisingly difficult to get traditional media executives to admit this. But their resistance seems based on an emotional attachment to ink on paper, a deeply held — if largely indefensible — sense that a newspaper’s soul is inextricably linked to its format.

Which is nonsense. Scary as they are, some things must be confronted, including our overly romanticized notions of what a newspaper is.

  • Mike G

    The WSJ’s online version is about as user-friendly as any out there. Which means it’s still well short of the paper edition in certain aspects.

    Maybe the paper WSJ is the model for the future– a lean, focused, national niche-targeted paper paper, as opposed to the 12-section, tree-wasting behemoths that most city-based dailies are.

  • Agree with Mike on the WSJ’s usability. Parts of it cost money, so none of it is worth visiting. That’s always going to hold back online readership.

    It would be nice to see the daily print focus on opinion and analysis and leave the major events to online news sources, which we’re more likely to have already seen on the web by the time we buy the paper, anyway.

  • Johnny

    Jeff, I’m a big fan of your blog, but the physicality of media also matters. I read the Wall Street Journal (and the loved/hated Gray Lady) almost upside down on my couch and I love the snap of the paper. The ergonomics and usability of media matters. There’s nothing like a crisp Wall Street Journal paper waiting to be read and rumpled up. I read the articles in deeper detail. The web is nice for scanning and short reading. Paper has its place, particularly if papers begin publishing more reader feedback.

  • ronbo

    Sometimes technology has to catch up to people and sometimes it’s the other way around.

    In a sense, the iPod became inevitable the day the first transistor radio was sold, and Tivo was foreshadowed by the original VCR. But it took a long time for, say, personal computers and mobile phones to gain significant penetration.

    My hypothesis is that adoption of a technology will be slowed when either (a) the new technology doesn’t meet a strong pre-existing demand or solve a serious pre-existing problem or (b) the new technology requires significant compromises.

    Mobiles are an example of case (a), since (i) we got along fine without them (ii) there were acceptable alternatives (from pay phones to CB radio) and (iii) they were expensive enough at first to discourage casual experimentation.

    Online-only newspapers are an example of case (b), as Johnny’s comment makes clear. Digital filmmaking is in the same position: substantial advantages in speed and cost offset by legitimate concerns about picture quality. I suspect, however, that online-only “papers” is just a matter of time. I feel the way Johnny does about “the snap of the paper” but my kids might not.

    PS – check out, an online-only automotive magazine with editorial and advertising that is on a par with any major car book.

  • Ronbo:
    Winding Road is a nice site. I have to say, the net will beat newspapers with images every time.

    [[Ken – thanks for your suggestion; I took the advice and deleted it then. Much appreciated – jeff]]

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