Print Is Not Dead

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There has been a lot going on in the news in the past few days that might lead you to believe that print is dead, dying or – at the very least – on its deathbed.

Print is not dead.

Hot off the press is the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper is stopping their physical presses and transforming itself into a web-only newspaper. Clay Shirky (author of the amazing book, Here Comes Everybody) also had an insightful and refreshingly new perspective on the newspaper industry on his Blog titled, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

Yes, people are reading a lot more online these days, but there are many healthy print publications (books, newspapers, tabloids, magazines, comics, etc…) that are doing just fine. They have strong readership, strong subscriptions, strong advertising, strong business models and strong overall fiscal results. The ones that are suffering are mostly those that are riddled with debt and struggling to find relevancy in a world where their content is not all that unique and the readers know it (which makes advertisers know it too).

Fine, but how do we really know that print is not dead?

Most of the fodder that drives the content in new media stems from some kind of traditional media channel. It’s not uncommon to see a Blog post sparked by something that was in the printed media. It’s also not uncommon to see some of the most prolific and powerful online media personas gloating and praising one another (be it in a Blog, on Twitter or Facebook) when one of them gets some kind of mention in a traditional print media outlet.

To many of us, being talked about in print media is high praise and personal validation.

Personal anecdote: not a day goes by that someone does not ask about when my book, Six Pixels of Separation, will be published. I also get constant feedback about my newspaper articles in both the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun. People seem to be looking forward to both the book and the newspaper columns. There was also a steady stream of congratulatory comments when I changed my LinkedIn profile to include that I was now writing a column for En Route Magazine. No one has ever asked me about when my next Blog posting was going to be published or what I am Blogging about. Being in print (either as a published author or journalist) still gets much more attention from a much more diverse and mass audience.

People still get excited to see their name in print. People still get excited to read print.

Maybe it is pure nostalgia (as Shirky says). Maybe we still can’t let go of the tactile experience that a printed magazine, book or newspaper gives us. Maybe we are in the midst of creative destruction in the publishing world, and the idea of holding the printed word will be as relevant as buying a CD in the next few years. It wasn’t that long ago that I could not imagine parting with my CD collection (they are all in boxes and the bulk of the music is on the iPod). I still can’t imagine getting rid of my book collection and replacing it with an Amazon Kindle.

Maybe we’re all just kidding ourselves into thinking that something in print is that much different from CDs, vinyl or cassettes?


  1. “Maybe it is pure nostalgia (as Shirky says). Maybe we still can’t let go of the tactile experience that a printed magazine, book or newspaper gives us.”
    I disagree and in fact you sparked some good thinking here Mitch. Think I’m going to take this to my blog because it is worth more than a comment, but my theory is this:
    Digital is the new master copy.
    See an article in your local paper you like? You’re going to find it online and bookmark it. You’re not going to keep that print copy around forever – it is junk and disposable.
    Maybe we are different as I grew up using the web and digital communications tools. I don’t have nostalgia for holding a newspaper really, books – sure, but I see no difference between reading on a screen and holding it in my hands.
    On the screen it is 100 times more valuable as I can now share it — with my thoughts — with my 1,800+ RSS readers. The digital copy is the master copy – you can print it off as many times as you want.
    Someone should create a device which can print the paper off the web in your house and you could get your paper free without ads…that would solve the nostalgia factor.

  2. Shirky makes some excellent points about how digital publications have put forward revenue models involving micropayments, something that will really only work with weekly news magazines rather than dailies. It’s likely that there will have to be an entirely new and revolutionary platform for digital news media, rather than naively thinking we can just shove newspaper content online.
    You raise some very good points regarding recognition in print media being greater than blog recognition. Professional journalists still have the power over bloggers. Although breaking news often comes in a blog post, it is the mainstream media the public looks to for the scoops rather than bothering to scan thousands of blogs for something new. Journalists write news according to multiple sides, access to sources and a knowledge of media law, making them more trustworthy.

  3. Jeff Jarvis has also been talking a lot about how books should be linkable, updateable, clickable, searchable and other words that end with “able”.
    It makes sense. We all see it, but none of us knows how this is going to play out. Talk about being in the middle of some very exciting times!

  4. “To many of us, being talked about in print media is high praise and personal validation.”
    “People still get excited to see their name in print.”
    True unless the article reads ” was arrested today on charges of…” 🙂

  5. I am trying to reconcile my position on the seemingly fleeting print publishing business model.
    Eventhough we live in a “digital” world, there is something to be said for being off-line and reading a newspaper, magazine or book in print (held in your hand and not at your fingertips).
    I currently straddle both worlds. I read most of my news online during the week and in print on the weekends.
    People 20 years younger than me do everything online. Those 20 years older are more comfortable off-line. Maybe this explains why I am stuck in the middle.

  6. One can’t ignore the obvious shift that will happen when the Kindle eventually does to words what the iPod did to music.
    The iPod didn’t kill the music biz, but it certainly has shifted the model substantially.
    I find it particularly amusing when so called “blogstars” get all excited about being noticed by print. They need the old school validation soooo badly.

  7. I posted this via a Twitter reply but not everyone here may have seen it so I will mention it here for everyone who doesn’t follow your Twitter.
    Mitch print will never be dead. As Heather Reisman from Indigo said on CBC when George Stroumboulopoulos from The Hour recently interviewed her, there is nothing like holding a book to realize it’s true value.
    Maybe she said that to promote book sales as she benefits from this but I believe most people would agree with this.
    After all what do you take to your kids bad to read to them ? A laptop ? Amazon Kindle ? No a book because nothing opens a child’s mind like a book and the love of a parent reading one to them. That is something technology can never replace, those special moments with a book and your children which is why print will never die.

  8. There are many reasons why print should live on.. its sensual, the smell of pages, the crackle of pages, the joy of running fingers over a page, and being able to chat to a friend across the table and come back to the page again.. and taking a computer to bed does not quite beat the friendship of a good book on a cold night. I despite being a writer I hate reading on line.. I print stuff out and take it outside to read. In the sun, the breeze or onto the beach.
    the other is the accessibility between social classes. My research had shown that the digital divide resides on social class. the poor share newspapers, can pick them out of bins , you tray taking someone’s laptop.

  9. It’s the $64 M question all right… even though it’s not dead yet, the future of print is a huge question mark. MediaPost quoted a recent survey on the topic:
    A new survey of American readers by The Rosen Group, about the state of current and future media, found that nearly 80% of respondents still subscribe to magazines and 83% find that daily newspapers are still relevant. 45% though, of those surveyed, said that newspapers and magazines will exist in 10 years, while 40% were uncertain.
    Lori Rosen, founder and president of The Rosen Group, points out that these findings suggest that, though there is a strong shift to online news consumption and a preference for online sources for breaking news, Americans still find print publications to be important sources, especially for entertainment.
    Read the entire article here

  10. Some great comments here. My gut says that the feeling of “seeing our name” in print is a legacy of our previous era and will eventually dissipate. There will be need for print in different forms, but it’s position as the most authoritative is almost gone.

  11. There will only be one place for secrets to hide in increasing digital world, and that would be in analog print. That need is not enough to keep the printing industry anywhere near its current level, but there will always be a need for print.

  12. Thanks for sharing this post. I think print media is still essential. Though web is a great form of media, but still we must accept that not all have access to web and therefor, there lies the role of print media. So i think print is not dead for me..

  13. True, people feel a certain amount of prestige at seeing their name in the paper. But is that because of the printed product, or is it because it’s being published by a reputable media organization?
    Isn’t it the same feeling we get when we see our names on TV, hear them on the radio, or read them on TechCrunch?
    I don’t think the medium matters in this case.

  14. I recently published my first mystery novel, Mitch, and have been working every digital tool I can to get the book out. I have a Kindle version, an ebook version, a blog, etc. But nothing topped the presence of the print book. See my post at for the complete story. I think there is something about having a trophy case for your brain (bookshelf) and about handling physical finished goods that still appeals to a part of the human equation we probably will never lose.

  15. @Dror Heather Reisman runs a bookstore. You think she’s going to tell you how great the Kindle is?
    Books will “live” but in the future they’ll be as relevant as photo prints are today.
    Do you print off every single photo you take? No. You print some, you put the rest on webpages.
    We will still buy books, but we will buy them digitally. The classics will live on in print, and those will be fine to savour, but the model is dying and changing.
    Just ask the one hour photo developers.

  16. Wow, I’m coming very late to this conversation. But I had to add my two cents, if ex post facto.
    I think print, across media–books, magazines, newspapers, collateral, catalogs–still holds its own. Print doomsayers are myopic: Unlike many of us, most Americans are not glued to laptop screens all day. Significant demographic segments eschew digital media entirely.
    The key is, as always, to know your audience and deliver the media mix that’s relevant to them.
    On a more timely note, I look forward to your podcast with Seth!

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