Should We Revisit The-Print-Is-Dead Scenario?

By on February 27th, 2013

Roger Fidler says it’s real: print is terminal. So who, might you ask, is Roger Fidler?

Some call him a new media pioneer and visionary and he definitely has credentials, both then and now. Fidler was the new media technology director at Knight Ridder, once upon a time. Now he’s the program director of Digital Publishing at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

In 1999, he wrote an essay titled “Newspaper Design: 2020.” He missed a few things, he admits: social media, smartphones, search engines, and news aggregators such as Flipboard and Pulse, for instance.

But even earlier, back in October 1992, Fidler was prescient, saying, “While most [newspaper executives] accept that they are in the mass communication business, they love ink-on-paper too much to seriously consider alternatives. Consequently, all electronic media are still considered threats rather than opportunities … While no one expects printing presses to die any time soon, their role in mass communication will be greatly diminished in the next 20 years [emphasis added].”

Inarguably, plenty has changed about newspapers since 1992. Today, Fidler still thinks he was on target with his notion that the newspaper business would be upended by 2021.

“If established newspaper publishers are to survive and thrive in the next century, they must be prepared to abandon the last vestiges of industrial age publishing—printing presses and delivery trucks. Their only viable option is to make a full conversion to cyber age publishing within the next two decades. The writing is already on the wall, or, more to the point, the writing is on the screen..”

“The majority of newspapers in the U.S. and many parts of the world may, in fact, no longer publish weekday editions on paper by 2020. Timely news, general information and advertising will be so pervasive on line and on the air that daily paper editions will be considered superfluous and outdated. Paper editions simply won’t be able to compete with the more immediate, more convenient and more compelling multimedia digital periodicals and TV/Web services. Only the weekend general-interest, leisure-reading editions of newspapers with their abundance of advertising inserts may survive for another decade or two as traditional paper products.”

Newspapers have fought the paper scrap heap bravely and heartily. And, yet, newspapers keep marching toward that digital eventuality. Much of the band leading the march is playing on a small device called “the tablet.”

Fidler’s words and my own personal experience with life-by-tablet have me wondering about the implications of an increasing dependency on tablets for information gathering, personal life management, and entertainment. Where will marketing on paper fit in?

 

 

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    2 Responses to “Should We Revisit The-Print-Is-Dead Scenario?”

    1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Says:

      I understand your point, but I also think we need to be careful about applying the experience of newspapers to all forms of print. Data show that direct mail, for example, is still highly effective. Volumes may be down as the channels shift, but saying that print is “dead” is a very different thing than media re-distribution.

    2. Nancy Scott Says:

      Agreed, Heidi. Direct mail IS still highly effective and smart marketers will stick with it, improve it, and make the best of it for some time to come. It’s fair, too, to acknowledge that email marketing also faces huge problems with spam and deliverability. (By the way, during an “post-election-analysis session I attended recently, both sides said email marketing was their *most* effective channel). So, yes, of course these channels are still viable. And yet, the handwriting on the wall becomes more digital each day. As Fidler warned newspapers in 1992, it’s time now to explore alternatives, experiment with new technologies, and prepare for change.