Saturday, April 18, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Whither Print Now?

Like the restaurant industry recently discussed in this space
(see “Revision Of Dining Out”), the vast U.S. print industry
(books, newspapers, magazines, paper documents) was already
undergoing profound changes before the current global medical
emergency suddenly appeared.

In the case of the print industry, the cause was an epic and
sudden innovation of technology --- the internet. Enabled by
the microchip, the nation (and most of the world) has gone
online for much of its reading.

This transformation of reading venues is particularly true for
the younger American generations, many of whose members
were born after the internet age had begun.

Among the first industries to feel its impact was the newspaper.
Virtually all daily and weekly newspapers developed online
proprietary editions to go with print editions, but the latter
have been in steady decline. Some newspapers no longer have
print editions. Newspapers also have faced serious competition
for their principal source of revenue, advertising, from a myriad
of online services. With automation, newspaper employment,
both technical and journalistic, has been in steady decline, and
controversial recent political bias by many major urban daily
newspapers has, according to most polls, has shaken public
confidence in the industry, both print and online.

The magazine industry is more diverse with numerous special
interest publications doing better than some long-time larger
circulation periodicals which, like print newspapers, are seeing
fewer subscribers and less advertising. Most formerly successful
newsmagazines and political journals are being subsidized by
affluent owners. Otherwise, most could not survive. Exclusively
online magazines are reportedly experiencing less advertising, a
critical element in their long-term survival.

The book publishing industry has been struggling to adapt and
revive for years as print publishing costs have risen sharply.
The introduction of online e-books and print copy-on-demand
services has further undercut the ability of many established
book publishers to make a profit. But like the daily newspaper,
the obit for the printed book was premature. Whether the new
technologies, current emergency, and aging of readers who buy
printed books will combine to drastically change the industry is
yet unclear, but time and book reader habits do not appear to be
on the mass market printed book’s side.

Similarly, the use of printed documents of all kinds, from tax
returns, payments by check or cash, paper correspondence of
most types, and other general printing seems on the way  to
obsolescence --- replaced by electronic technology. This
long-term development seems intensified in the current
emergency during which so much is taking place and being
communicated online.

Other industries such as the cruise ship industry were growing
and booming before the emergency shutdown. Several new and
large cruise ships had recently been built. But the international
passenger sailing season has now been suspended, and its effect
is likely to be more severe than the impact of shutdowns in the
printing industry.

Ironically, the emergency shutdowns have given many Americans
of all ages who are “sheltered-in-place” suddenly a lot more time
to occupy themselves by reading. This includes reading not only
the news and sharing correspondence online, but also reading
and re-reading printed books already in existing personal

Like so much about this unprecedented crisis, predictions about
its lasting impact are now only guesswork.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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