BoSacks Speaks Out: The Totally Unnecessary Defense of Print
It was the great writer and journalist Mark Twain who once commented that the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. So, too, are the reports of the death of print.
I think we can all agree that in the last decade or so, there have been absolute and fundamental shifts in communication patterns and processes. I include the obvious communication patterns between people and people, between people and businesses, and between businesses and businesses. These have all been forever altered, and a case can be made that that the changes are probably for the better. I would also add this change is historically not new and has been going on since the very first capitalistic transaction. Change in our DNA both biologically and in our businesses is and always has been an on-going and necessary developmental process. There may have been a beginning somewhere in history, but there isn't ever going to be an end to the process of developmental change. The luddites, the Amish and several other groups have drawn a line in the technologic sand, but most of the rest of society has willingly moved on.
When it comes to the unnecessary dialog about the death of print, I am rather stunned by our insistence as an industry to continue to repeat it. I actually despise all the self-flagellation that the industry insists on reiterating with the inane metaphor/mantra that print is dead. This rumor comes mostly from disenfranchised ink-on-paper publishers and reporters. They mistake a change in dominance for death. Loss of dominance is not equivalent to death—it just feels that way.
The fact is that there are billions being made every day in print, and there will be billions made in print for the foreseeable future. There are some single print titles that have revenue streams over a billion dollars (People). There are many titles that hover near the billion dollar mark in annual revenue. Does that sound like death to you?
The only thing that has changed is that there is more competition than ever before for both advertising dollars and readers. At the end of the day, if you supply what the advertiser or the reader actually wants, you make money and have a job and a career. If you can't supply what the reader or the advertiser wants, you languish and say that print is dead or dying. That statement is just not true; it is wrong and it is plain ridiculous. There will come a time, and it might be sooner than some expect, that the Web and the digital process makes more revenue than printed products, but that exchange on the pyramid of business success does not mean death. It just means sharing the revenue pie with worthy others.
It seems to me the biggest problem is the loss of innocence. Not too long ago there were basically three ways to communicate: Print, Radio and TV. Now there are dozens of ways and variations of each to reach out to readers, and businesses. So when some of us declare that print is dead it implies that we just don't like competition and wish we were back in the days of wine, roses, and no competition.
Last week, I had an epiphany on this subject, oddly enough in a place that I didn't expect. I gave a keynote at the Printing Industries of America conference in St. Louis. At the conference I was listening to a panel discussion about what the pressroom of the future might look like. I suddenly realized a core and fundamental difference between modern printers and modern publishers. The modern printer has no doubt what-so-ever, as to what he will be doing five, ten and even twenty years from now. The modern printer will be printing. The publisher on the other hand is filled with self-doubt, consternation and fear of death.
The modern printer will continue to print, while increasingly becoming more efficient, with greater quality controls and perhaps lower or at least stable pricing structures. The publisher on the other hand has a basic business model and strategic choices about how and where his revenue will come from in this new age of multiple forms of competition. The revenue could come from print or in conjunction with some other venue. The modern printer is solely focused on doing what they do better, faster and sometimes cheaper.
The bottom line here is that the printer will always have clients, where some publishers should, but may not. The publishing community must stop whining about the death of print, which isn't actually happening, and get back to producing products that are valuable on any substrate. There are too many examples to mention of the successful reinvention of the magazine model. These titles are very busy emerging from the doldrums and creating relevant content on any and all substrates that their audiences wish. And they are getting paid for their stellar performance. If your once-successful magazine isn't doing well now, where have your readers gone to and why did they leave your establishment? If your magazine is dying, please, don't blame it on the death of print—print has nothing to do with it.