If You Can Read This Print Is Not Dead
By Amy Theodore
The debate about the digital world and its effect on our print industry is nothing new. The argument about ‘the death of print’ and the decline of printed publications has been continually highlighted throughout time. Sven Birkerts, in 1994, in his book The Guternberg Elegies, began sounding alarms about the death of books and print, and we heard it again in 2007 from Jeff Gomez in his book Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age.
Now currently, as we find ourselves in a turbulent and almost revolutionary time, where technology and its possibilities are increasingly heightened and integrated into our daily lives, the future of print is again becoming a big topic of discussion.
Reports released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation on February 14th of this year, showed circulation of major newspapers is still decreasing. The Sydney Morning Herald posted a 16.6% decline since the end of 2013. In fact most of News Corp Australia’s newspapers recorded double-digit decreases, with The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun down by about 12%.
As these big companies turn their attentions online, and discussion fuels about whether or not we will see a complete digitisation of these publications, how are the little guys handling this? Does the digitisation of newspapers actually mean complete digitisation and loss of the print industry?
Looking up news reports on the issue indicates there may be a bit of struggle on their end to. With street press publications like Newcastle and Central Coast’s Reverb moving to digital-only in March 2013, and more recently, Adelaide’s Rip It Up following the same path in April this year.
So what is causing all these publications to leave the world of print behind?
Publisher and editor of Reverb, Kevin Bull, says, at least in his case, it came down to “money, finances, simple as that”, the print industry is an expensive one.
“In print, the biggest expense is your print cost. If it cost me ten-thousand dollars for one issue of Reverb, half of that would just be to print it.”
In fact, the current struggle between print and online may all simply boil down to the issue of money. The digital world is still new to us all, including those involved with media, publications and, possibly most importantly, advertising.
Kevin Bull – Editor/Publisher of Reverb --->
Most publications, particularly if they are given out for free, rely on advertising to make some money. As Bull explained, advertisers still have the same amount of money as before, but they “haven’t moved their 100% faith over to online” yet, meaning they are spreading the same amount of money over more options.
“If you imagine there’s a tour and they’ve budgeted for their advertising twenty-thousand dollars. They go ‘where are we going put it?’ Ten years ago you’d probably go a bit of radio, newspapers and some print. Now, with the Internet weighing into it, they’ve split that twenty-thousand, so instead of ten-thousand of it going to print, they’ll only send five to print and send five online. It’s the same amount of advertising budget being split further between options.”
This is a trend that managing director of the printed art and culture zine Newcastle Mirage, Kian West, also noticed. After watching Reverb disappear from the streets of Newcastle, West wanted to fill the hole left behind, but when he started to research, the expensive truth revealed itself.
“You start doing the numbers like, what if we did one? How much would it cost? The production is gigantic; you’re looking at printing between 40 and 50 odd thousand copies, which is expensive, and then projections on how long it takes to get enough paid advertising, it just didn’t add up. You were at least chasing three months, six months, even longer. We were like that’s why they die, it’s because they chase this debt for so long, where do you ever get it back?”
Despite all the seemingly negative aspects currently associated with our print industry, there are still people and publications out there willing to take a dive into the deep end and transfer their work to paper. With so much apparently going against it, you have to ask, why?
Kian West (left) – Managing Director of Mirage & Ryan Williams (right) – Creative Director for Mirage ---->
It seems the resonating statement from those still taking a crack at the paper world, or who have been in the industry before, is print is not actually dying, it is just changing.
We have heard in the past claims about the death of radio and cinema, and both of those outlets are far from gone. The same can be said for print. In a society where the Internet is becoming such an integrated part of our lives, it is simply about finding a place for print in this changing world.
The fact is the customer seeking the news is changing. The younger generations of digital natives, those who have grown up with and surrounded by the Internet, and who see it as something that is now a natural part of our everyday lives, are the ones seeking out the news. Due to their predisposition to the Internet, they want their news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They want to know about something happening as it happens, not the next day. This kind of rapid service is not something print can deliver, and the people of this digital native generation would prefer to scroll through their mobiles or tablets to read the news when it suits their schedule, rather than fold out a newspaper or magazine.
This generation is replacing the previous customers of the past, the pre-internet digital immigrants, who are much less inclined to feel the need for such rapid news and in such digital formats. This is something Bull recognised and contributed as a reason behind why Reverb no longer could survive in the world of print.
“We’re in this period of time where things will get really shaken up and it’s all because of the Internet,” explained Bull. “I think the difficult thing Reverb had was it really is a newspaper. It’s a day-to-day thing, it’s printed in that type of style, it’s a throw away thing in the end.”
Though print is currently in a state of flux, it seems reasonable to assume that one day all of our daily news will be delivered to us purely online, meaning, as Bull suggested, “print needs to be more than the Internet.”
“It’s great to have instantaneous news, but I think print needs to give you something of value for you to keep.”
This comment was reiterated by publisher at Aphra Magazine, Ellie Oddie-Jones, a crowdsourced publication who launched their first print edition in September this year.
“Print isn’t dying, it’s changing,” she said. “People don’t want the standard newspaper type publication that is produced every day when you can get all that information for free online. They also don’t want to purchase something that is going to be outdated within a week. They want something that feels different, something worth investing in.”
Creating something worth investing in, for West, was about thinking “what if we did something real DIY, like zine culture?”, and establishing real-life connections and moments for people, providing an experience the frenzy of social media cannot.
“We wanted to stop people, slow them down, everything comes so fast online. Print is a tactile moment; you stop, hopefully visit a new café, and pick one [Mirage] up and read it while you’re there. [In Mirage] there’s a real focus on the local people, it’s all about the personalities and interviewing someone that tells a story of what they’re doing.”
“We only do a limited production each month and spread it really thin across quite a few cafes and bars around town, which sort of ties in with that whole limited edition philosophy. So you’re kind of driving people to get out there and get a copy, but also to get out and be part of the city, and thus maybe find the people they’ve read about. I think that’s the key sort of difference, there’s a new sense of value you wouldn’t otherwise get from reading about Nick Cave touring.”
It is also about creating something, as Oddie-Jones explained, that won’t be old news tomorrow.
“I genuinely believe people are tiring of temporary print publications, and don’t want to spend the money on something that will be outdated or they’re never going to read again.”
It’s this limited edition, unique value content that “hooks into a niche market where people are willing to pay 15 dollars” which Bull also sees the future of print becoming.
“I think print will be high-class, limited edition. It might be more photography or more images, things that need to be printed. Like I love collecting coffee table books on music. I keep those, and people will see value in that sort of thing. Whereas I think print for your day-to-day instant news will go, there’ll be no need for that.”
We know times are changing, and as Bull said “it seems destined print and online will become completely different things”. Transitory phases can be complicated, a bit confusing and a bit unstable. A major player in why dealing with this change could be proving so difficult is because digital immigrants are still spearheading most of the media industry, especially the bigger players, such as the chair of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch. Though he has personally recognised the need for this change, most digital immigrants do not completely comprehend the fact we are increasingly relying on online sources for news, which means they need to switch up the way they do things. But as Oddie-Jones explained, publications need to take notice of and ride this wave of change if they hope to come out the other side.
“I know it’s hard and expensive to change, but I think that’s why print publications are struggling. They need to focus on their demographics and explore what they want, rather than stick with what they’ve been doing for however long.”
As we begin to grasp the idea print and online hold different purposes, the future will lie in figuring out the most effective way to combine the two and make them work in harmony.
Something which Roumen Dimitrov has suggested in his paper Do social media spell the end of journalism as a profession, and Rupert Murdoch has also talked about, is the bundling of these two platforms together to create a type of hybrid media, to produce a package or a news brand. Together, the online can help stablise the print industry, and the two can be used to compliment one another.
In this age where everyone is online, it goes without saying that anything in print form needs something online to help it survive, keep people interested, and to give them something to interact with. However, particularly for big name publications looking to the online world, print provides them an already established reputation to help drive eyes to their corner of the Internet, a world that is hard to get heard in with so many voices already there, and to get those eyes to pay for the content.
For example, Murdoch has successfully been able to get The Wall Street Journal to transition to online, and make money from it. With its previously established reputation as a trustworthy, opinion-leading, high-class or high-end publication, it was able to successfully survive in the online world by putting up pay walls. This is because people already trusted the content and knew it was worth paying for.
Those in smaller publications have recognised this as well.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, everyone’s on the Internet. We do have an online presence. I guess from my marketing background I understand the importance of the social media identity, that this wouldn’t work in isolation,” said West. “All of the articles eventually go onto our website, which then helps the artist because they generally want to share their interview and that kind of stuff”.
In some cases it is also about providing different content on both platforms, which compliments each other to help build the brand.
“When we were getting stories for the print we were looking for entirely different elements than we normally would for the online magazine,” explained Oddie-Jones. “They complement each other, they don’t compete with one another”.
So the future of print may not be as grim as some may try to lead us to believe. The current state of the print industry is comparable to a teenage going through their awkward puberty stage. There is currently a lot of changes happening, changes maybe the industry does not fully understand or know how to deal with. However, in time they well come to understand what is happening and learn how to handle this new world. Print may change and no longer be what we previously knew it to be, but it will never die.