Monday, March 26, 2007

Giving up the Ghost of Print Journalism

According to Dawn Kawamoto's Blogma post this morning at CNET, beginning in April InfoWorld will no longer have a print edition. Dawn's own take on this is in her final paragraph:

The print world, which includes newspapers, increasingly is finding its readers don't want to be couch potatoes. They want to participate via blogs, video posting or posted messages. That's a difficult thing to deliver when the printed word arrives carved in stone, via doorstep or mailbox.

Personally, I do not think that participation is the primary factor in sounding the death knell for print journalism; nor do I think it has to do with a sudden passion for the journalism business to save the trees or, as one of the comments to Dawn's post claimed, the temporary nature of journalistic content. Mostly it has to do with the struggle of the journalism business to break even, let alone turn a profit. Like any business in such a situation, the primary strategy is one of cutting waste.

In this particular case the real waste lies in the mass production of a large quantity of pages, most of which receive little more than a passing glance by most readers (probably even those who do their glancing during "bodily functions"). This is not to say that casual browsing is a bad thing; but, for most of my periodical reading, Google Reader seems to satisfy my skimming needs better than most printed pages do. There is, however, one disadvantage on the commercial side: When you browse with Google Reader, you do not see advertising on adjacent pages. Advertisers used to count on this, and some were particularly good with their placement strategies. However, the advertising business seems to be waking up to the need to explore other ways to grab eyeballs.

This, of course, is not the end of printing. Rather, it is the transfer of responsibility for printing from the publisher to the reader. Anything that requires serious reading (which, for my own habits, has yet to be the case for InfoWorld) is something that I usually decide to print; and it then follows me around to the many places where I do that serious reading. Electronic paper is not yet good enough to change this habit, nor are most portable devices. So paper is not yet dead, but publishers are beginning to recognize that they can make major cuts in the amount of money they spend on it. As a result, we are just likely to be using less of it; and that is good for the trees! (I just hope InfoWorld does not reveal that this is their idea of an April Fools joke!)

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