Why Print Media Will Never Regain Its Prominence
Sometimes we in the industry get caught up in a type of professional fundamentalism. Everywhere you look in the trades, blogs, magazines and newspapers that discuss the publishing industry the dialog invariably ends up about the advancing death of print. There are the pro-death and the anti-death antagonists who have taken extreme positions which blind them to the truths of the situation. Those pundits insist on taking a black and white fundamental approach to what is happening so as to make the conversation almost meaningless.
It isn't really about the death, but about a decline in prominence. At the core of the discussion is an overall lessening of the vast quantities that we used to produce and distribute. But that fact doesn't necessarily have to be about a lessening of our self-worth, unless we choose to make it so.
There was a time when print was the least expensive, least complex way to reach a mass audience. Now print is the most complex and most expensive way to reach a large audience. It is a fundamental shift from the way things were. Add to that the enormous cultural shifts in information gathering, reading and re-distribution, and you see that print has an even bigger situation to confront -- that the public has only a limited time for reading anything.
More information delivered in unlimited ways on dozens of platforms, only one of which is paper, doesn't add to the time people have to read. In the last report that I saw from Mary Meeker, print received 6% of the time spent with media, while TV got 42% and radio received 9%. The internet got 20% and was rising, with mobile also on the rise. Internet/mobile was the only media category that continued to rise year over year. Time spent in the other categories was dropping.
The trend is inescapable and denying it is counter-productive to our sustainability. The bottom line as I see it is that print will not die, but it won't ever again be the predominant way that people read. There will still be billions of revenue in print for magazines, but as an industry they will be at best 1/3 of what they once were by 2020. That prediction must be understood to be an aggregate of the entire industry, there will always be titles and publishing houses that buck the industry trend.