Saturday, January 24, 2009

Print is Dead, Right?

Several weeks ago I posted a discussion-starter on Linked-In. I got some interesting replies, and want to share this, and my wrap-up thoughts, in this blog entry. Here goes!

Me: Esteemed colleagues: Book sales have been flat for years, and now are trending down. Newspapers are imploding, and magazines may not be far behind. Print on paper is dead, right?

Senior Manufacturing Buyer at Large Publisher:

College textbook publishing has never been stronger. With people going back to school for vocational training or changing careers and the new emphasis on science and math, college textbooks sales are doing well.

Print Production / Project Manager Seeking a New Position:

As a print production manager, I am definitely seeing the trend down for paper. I'm not happy about it but I was recently reading PC Magazine and on the very first page, the editor stated I was "holding in my hand the last printed issue" as they were going completely digital. Am I one of last ones standing that still reads newspapers and enjoys the actual feel of the magazine with the little cards falling all over the floor?

I think the future is closer than we think and unfortunately for printers, digital is quickly replacing offset. PDF's and eBooks are replacing the hard cover and paperback. Web banners and email blasts are replacing trade ads. I think we have to face it and adapt.

PLEASE... someone tell me I am wrong!


I don't know about dead, but risky for sure...Now that I can take my Kindle along on vacation/business trips, I don't need to buy print, but I still do. Also, you need to be smart about what to print. For example, we do a bunch of books which have replica's of old documents (pull out reproduced copies), like the Dec of Ind hand written by Jefferson, with his notes in the's hard to do that digitally.

Managing Director at film company:

Wrong. There is a whole culture of book lovers who will never give up hard copy. Curling up on the sofa with a good book is one of life's finer luxuries. I don't see any major bookshops closing, just the little ones they swallow up.

Then there are the collectors, the joy of leather binding and gold leaf.

Digital may be taking over information bytes, but paper books will never die.


To suggest that Print on Paper is dead is alarmist nonsense. I see very little evidence of a reduction in the number of book titles published annually. Despite our current recession (that is affecting all commodities) book and media print sales are definitely holding up relatively strongly in UK. Digital printing has certainly arrived and has found a market for ultra short run and for those geeks who enjoy electronic gadgets - BUT it's actual effect on the traditional market is minimal and certainly does not signify that it has mortally wounded Print on Paper. When the recession is over, say in 3 years time the traditional publishing industry will still be strong and will recover faster than many industries. The digital industry will continue to grown exponentially and will maintain its minority position alongside conventional print.

Information Dissemination and Communications Manager:

For those of us trying to deliver practical information to remoter parts of the developing world, particularly in the rural development field, print on paper is still the medium of choice. The internet has a long way to go before it reaches all the small, dispersed offices of the ministries of agriculture in these countries, and any way who wants to fire up an internet connection every time you want to refer to a farmer's guide or such like?

I'm all for paper -- I enjoy reading my newspapers, magazines and journals in the old fashioned way, and sometimes coming across a tidbit of information that I would have missed or overlooked if I were browsing or searching a website.

Project Specialist:

There was an interesting report the other day on NPR about how children today are learning in a totally different way than children did, say, 20 years ago (sorry - not sure what program it was on). The reason behind this is that everything is accessed online, and the type of mental functionality used for the two types of reading is completely different.

With this being said, I firmly think that the place we need to move toward is a marriage of the two - electronic and print. The hard thing here, and I have no solution for it, is figuring out the correct balance that ensures we aren't loosing new readers by not providing technology advances, and also that we aren't loosing old readers who would rather stay lost in their already-owned books than pick up an "e-book" and read on a screen.

I, personally, am one of those die-hard paper-readers. I will be forever paying to cart around multitudes of books, seldom letting any of the go. However, if the technology comes around that I am comfortable with using, then I will give it a shot.

Media Entrepreneur:

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PRINT---The Sky Is Not Falling !!

The Internet came along and the nay sayers said print is dead. Now there are magazines and books in print about the Internet. Blogging is hot and there are magazines and books in print about blogging.

It’s not dead. It’s constantly shifting to different markets and changing because of alternative carriers and changing technology. Just like the three major networks once controlled most of television advertising, along comes cable and FOX and super stations WGN and TNT and the Internet and satellite radio, etc. etc.

Books on tape shifted to CD and now to iPods and MP3 players. VHS tapes are now DVDs. The sky is not falling.

Graphic Designer:

I tried to read a book on the computer once. I only have one eye left.

Independent Publishing Professional:

Printed books have been declared dead for almost 20 years now. Don't forget children learn to read from illustrated children's books read to them in a warm family settings---certainly not all, but the ideal for a literate society. Even though kids get all the electronic stuff early on, nothing reproduces the feel of a printed book, or reproduces the photos/illustrations as well as print. Kids may go thru a period of only reading textbooks, but many return to the printed word as they mature. New book sales are slow growth, but it's one of the few products that has extra lives as "used", and library checkouts are also up.

So keep on trucking!

Publication designer and illustrator:

My belief is that publishers and consumers will choose fewer, better quality books...books for pleasure, books with long shelf lives or with high value, rather than chase the big quantities and giant distribution chains.

Director of Sales, Print Products:

Printed books will never die. They have been assailed by MOVIES, TELEVISION, COMPUTER, CD-ROM, VIDEO TAPES you name it...all types of competition for our leisure or learning time.
We're still here.

I just attended a sales summit for Sam's Club, div of Wal-Mart and they have re-stated how important books are to their business and their product mix. While we may rail against the superstores, big box environments, and the Internet, the truth is more books are being sold in more places than ever before.

It is true that "content" can now be had in many different formats, but books are still quite popular....

To Wit...the wonderful Harry Potter and Stephanie Meyer's creatures of the night should remind you of the power of books TO A YOUNG AUDIENCE!

So don't bury us yet, Gutenberg's device is an elegant design for a wonderful, tangible and tactile object that has served us well for centuries and centuries and will continue to do just that.

Besides, what am I going to do with all of my nice bookmarks and book plates? And my bookshelves?

Sales Representative:

Adam, my grandmother used to love to throw an outrageous and controversial statement into a group of us youngsters, then sit back, grin and listen to the arguments. I think I detect a bit of Grannie in you. Thanks for initiating a really great exchange of ideas here. And thanks to all who contributed. I am a confirmed bibliophile and I do see, at least in the next decades, that marriage that [a previous writer] described. Those of us who learned to read in the traditional way will continue to hold to it, especially for recreational reading. I can see benefits to the new technology for data, research, etc.

However, if we fail, as parents, grandparents and teachers, to introduce our next generations to the pleasures of books (reading them, holding them, smelling them) in parallel with their inevitable use of the "new media," then we are paving the way for the brave new world of publishing so many of us decry.

Head of Information Services at a publishing group:

I moved out of Educational print production over 10 years ago now following the road to digital distribution. I'm amazed at how well print has held up over this period (although not in every publishing market). However, each medium has its strengths and weaknesses and too many under-estimate the simplicity, relative permanence and the pleasurable tactile nature of print. Radio is stronger than ever, despite the advent of television, and print will survive! Hang on in there.

Me again: You got me! Yes, I put this in as a "grannie" question to stir things up. And the exchange has been lively and interesting. Now I am going to get more serious.

I think that we are reaching a "tipping point" with regard to text on paper. I think that in one field after another, print will recede and electronic access will become primary. That doesn't mean that "paper is dead," though even this outlandish statement is not completely off the mark.

Some examples:

1. The Encyclopedia Britannica, the Oxford English Dictionary, and reference works in general. It is clear that electronic access has triumphed over print on paper. And if you want a truly ironic example, look at "Books in Print." I don't know if Bowker even produces print copies anymore, and I am certain that electronic access to their online version is triumphant.

2. Academic Journals. More and more journals are shifting to e-journals, and many new journals are "born digital."

3. Harlequin romances. Harlequin is bringing out every new book as an e-book as well. They also are exploring shorter romance stories as e-only, for $2.99.

4. Textbooks. I believe that Maple, an electronic textbook in mathematics, has been very successful. McGraw-Hill and others are bringing out electronic versions of their texts, and allowing customers to pick-and-choose chapters that are then printed out as "custom" books. How long before we have e-only versions of many, most, texts? The limitation so far has not been a preference for paper per se, but that paper copies are easier to annotate and highlight. As soon as this process becomes elegantly incorporated into e-textbooks, watch for a stampede.

Lets get serious in this discussion. I *adore* reading, love having books around me, work in a library, visit libraries when I go to a new city, have at least four different titles going at all times (the train, the bathroom, the bedside, the office). I love to receive books as gifts and give them as gifts, with a personal note to the recipient. But nostalgia and "book-loving" don't cut it if we are talking about the future of publishing. Give me facts, please.

Senior Editor:

I agree with [previous commentator]. Paper can never be dead for real BOOK lovers! I find reading on screen extremely tedious (though editing on screen is my job!). But there are enough paper book lovers like me out there who'd never settle for online reading for pleasure! Ppaer does have its own charm--its own sweet smell. :)

Head of Technology at a software company:

The new generation of youngsters are more inclined to digital media for reading. Print will not die in the immediate future but there will be slow down in printing. I feel audio books is slowly catching up and I understand that it can't replace all types of books.

Digital Content and online specialist:

Very interesting debate. I can't see a future without books because as a product they still work well. But sales are not assured when you order a print run (especially smaller markets outside US and UK) so it is reasonable to expect that there is a move from traditional print to digital print. And then as Harlequin and other publishers are beginning to do - test the market with an ebook first - then print if you get a great response.

I think we will see more books being used 'on the move' in digital format. Why not read on your reader or iphone when travelling to work - and perhaps you couldn't bear to leave that bedside book behind so you read it in different formats depending on your location? Or maybe Adam you will be reading an ebook on the train to work and another, printed book at home.

Either way I can't foresee printed books dying, just maybe publishers will print less of them and the digital format will become more common.

This revolution IS a huge change for the publishing industry and fascinating to watch. Australia only has one reader (the iRex iLiad) available for sale here to date- as far as I know - but I know a lot of 'non ebook purchasers' are becoming converted by reading on their iphones.

As the technology improves, so will ebook sales. But long live print I say, and yes - the smell of ink on paper and the FEEL of a book are still enchanting.

Principal at a design company:

I can't wait to read an e-book on one of these:

[This last commentator included a link to a new technology called “Plastic Logic.” Basically, it is a thin sheet of plastic that renders print and pictures in an e-ink mode. It can be rolled up, treated as a touch screen, and is altogether way cool! See also: ]


I love books!!! - I write Books!!! - actually recently published a book but have had a number of people asking for an e- version or an audio version. In my view these are different media - the relationship with sound or an electronic gadget is not the same as with a book. I think digital is a trend we will ultimately reverse - passive absorption is lazy - reading takes commitment and is ultimately far more satisfying..... generally (is this just my experience?) people who read books seem to me better educated and more interesting.....

Internet Brand Manager:

Well, I can only say that I write on the internet, but I read only in print. And I think that in the future the digital and the print format of a book will be complementary products.

Educational Writer and Educational Consultant:

Brave to suggest it but, no, paper is not dead. It is, however, now part of a multimedia format and as such there will be a bit of re-jigging as the new digital formats grab a bit of the action but I think give it a couple of years and we will see sales stabilise.

My wrap-up comments:

The Amazon Kindle, the SONY Reader, the plastic scroll—they are not going to kill the printed book, or the printed magazine, or the printed journal. They are
already dead.

Dead—if by dead we mean that they have lost their centrality to the transmission of information and culture. Radio started the process of undermining print, television accelerated it, and the Internet jumped up and down on the carcass.

How "bookish" are today's teenagers? Not very, according to a study financed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. America's teens spend 16 hours and 34 minutes a week watching television; 7:26 listening to music; 5:46 in various computer activities and another 1:53 playing video games. They spend two hours and eight minutes in reading.

The Kindle won't replace the book, but we need to recognize that the printed book is becoming more like the candle each day: attractive, useful in many contexts, but not usually necessary for the purpose of interior or exterior lighting.

Even so, the world is full of surprises. I sometimes ask my colleagues if they have read even one entire book online, on the iPhone, whatever. The answer is always NO.

BUT, if you happen to be a Japanese teenager, then your answer might be dramatically different.

In Japan, young women are using their thumbs to tap out serial novels. These stories of love, sex, and loss are posted to websites which are avidly scoured by other young women via their own cellphones or computers. One "cellphone novel" called
Love Sky has garnered an estimated 20,000,000 e-readers!

And the story gets even better. The most popular cellphone novel website, Maho no i-rando, has become the host to over one million titles. And the most popular of the novels are being formatted and printed as books. Study the current Japanese best-seller lists and you will find that five of the top ten works of fiction started out as "cellphone novels." (Source: Broken Hearts, Sore Thumbs: Japan's Best Sellers go Cellular, by Norimitsu Onishi, NYT, January 20, 2008)

As Nat King Cole sang:

The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay

In this essay, perhaps we can amend the words to read "our story is here to stay." Face it: we are a story-loving people. That love will find its way from the fireside, through the scroll and the codex and the book-on-tape—and is currently appearing on a screen near you.

So get ready for challenging times. Mark these words: Kindle 5.0 will give you everything: movies, TV shows, video games, news, magazines, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, text books, courseware, telephone, email, chat, GPS, music, audiobooks, crossword puzzles, instant translation, recipes, your photo album, your home movie collection, the latest in cancer research, your calendar, your scientific calculator, pornography, and the time in Sao Paulo.

If this sounds like a marriage of the wireless laptop, the iPhone, and the Kindle—well, you have cottoned on to the idea.

But you may not have grokked the idea. For those people unfamiliar with the verb "grok," it comes from the Martian language and was introduced to the earth by Robert A. Heinlein in his influential book
Stranger in a Strange Land. To grok is to deeply understand something.

It is impossible to grok the Kindle, or the iPhone, or the PDA. Handheld devices are moving very quickly toward bundling every electronic service that we can imagine. But our imagination cannot grasp the place of this ultimate device in our culture. Its future is being written each day in the hands of millions of people, and no one knows where it will end up in the learning process, the entertainment business, the family, or the life of the individual.

Neil Stephenson has tried to imagine it in his book
The Diamond Age. This author, famous for bringing cutting-edge technology into his novels, posits the ultimate book. There is only one such device, and it incorporates the most advanced "educational" programming of its time. The "book" is in the hands of a little girl. With it, she masters all the known universe.

I shall say no more. Read the book. Available through the Amazon Kindle for $7.96. Or in paperback, used, at Amazon, for as little as $5.56 plus shipping. (Pssst, you could also try your local library.)

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