BITS AND PIECES
Future of Print Must Include Print
A recent Sunday newspaper comic strip, Opus, by Berke Breathed, features computer mogul Steve Jobs confiscating all older technology from America's favorite penguin, telling him to "Embrace the wired future. Let's clean house."
Opus gives up his letters, papers, notes, cards, magazines, books, records, CDs, DVDs, televisions, radios, telephones—virtually all types of media and communication tools invented prior to the year 2000.
In place of all the bulky media, Jobs gives Opus a hand-held mechanism with a keyboard, flat panel screen and music player—clearly meant to be the answer to all of Opus' media-based needs.
In the next panel, Jobs orders Opus to hand over one last thing he seemingly refuses to surrender.
"Uh...the bed?" Opus asks.
"No. That," Jobs repeats, pointing off panel.
"Uh...the bed?" Opus repeats. Lying atop his bed is a newspaper, clearly the thing Jobs wants to eliminate.
Anyone who has followed the exploits of the fictional character Opus—from Bloom County to Outland, and now his self-titled comic strip—knows of his unabashed love affair with the newspaper. As a former sports editor, I share his commitment to the printed word, which has carried over to my magazine gig here at North American Publishing.
Not to sound like one of the countless old guard who bemoan the latest technology and vow to die with the tools of the past, but there's still something quite romantic about the printed word. Newspapers, magazines and books have always been a source of excitement for me.
Walk into a bookstore and your senses are bombarded. Not techno-bombarded...you don't need the latest version of Flash to get the full effect from a Border's. Whether it's a book, magazine, newspaper or other periodical you seek, there's a little something for everyone. Hell, they even offer java and snacks to coerce people to sit down, indulge and escape in the warming embrace of a good read.
It has saddened me a bit that, from my viewpoint, specialized magazines (they were aplenty in the 1980s) are dwindling because of diminishing ad revenues. Whether that is an undisputable fact, I cannot verify. Some of my favorite titles have went away or have taken on a broader appeal—essentially, that is Old School Magazine (Life, Look) mentality.
Newspapers, on the other hand, have themselves to blame for their plight. The Internet weaseled in on a lot of daily paper territory, but did papers have to put a gun to their own heads by giving away content for free, on the World Wide Web, no less?
The one thing newspapers had in their favor was local content. No one else was posting obituaries from Palookaville except for the Palookaville Press. High school soccer scores, zoning board meetings, 4-H fair pictures—all staples of the local rag, a bit too specific and disinteresting enough for Web surfers in general, but enough to sustain a paper and the locals whom it represents. But to then make it available, gratis, on the Internet is unthinkable.
Forget the gun/head analogy—shooting oneself in the foot is more appropriate.
One area newspaper called me a year or two ago to see if I would take out a subscription. What would be the point, I said, when you give away the content for free online?
Looking back on it, I feel like I've betrayed my own cause by tossing the local paper down the gutter, so to speak. If I don't buy the paper, the circulation drops, the amount the paper can charge advertisers dwindles, the paper's ad revenues fall, then...down goes the paper. A bit oversimplified, of course, but it's the crumbling of an industry in a microcosm.
We're all agents for the printed word and, as such, should take every opportunity to promote and support it. If we sold Fords for a living, we wouldn't tell everyone the 2006 Dodge line is incredibly exciting. But wherever I go, it seems pundits are forecasting the future of print to include almost everything except printing.
Frankly, I'd like to hear a lot less talk about diversification at industry functions. Adding mailing and fulfillment, variable data digital printing and ancillary services are all extremely wise choices, since the movement is toward becoming single-source options for customers. But what are we, as an industry, doing to deepen our traditional print offerings?
If the best we can muster is to say "diversify into other offerings," then we're selling ourselves short. The very notion puts print on its heels, backpeddling and losing even more ground to other media. There are other print avenues to be explored, like very large-format (VLF) printing.
The answers are there if we put our heads together, which leads to another pet peeve: the need for more printer-centric events, rather than equipment runway fashion shows. Yes, we need the manufacturers and their gear (this magazine's survival depends on its advertising), but we need to workshop the shortcomings in our industry and channel energies into solving these issues. I'm not seeing enough gatherings of the printer, by the printer and for the printer.
We need to grow commercial printing. Otherwise, Mr. Jobs may be telling you to toss that offset press out the door, as well.