Death of print? Not in the near future

| | in Oped

Even as many countries, barring India and China, have moved away from the print to the Internet, the latter may confuse us and constrict our thinking

We live in exciting times. Marshall McLuhan would have termed this as a brand new world of allatonceness — a world where time has ceased, space has vanished. We now live in a global village…a simultaneous happening. What McLuhan wrote in 1967, seems to be true today. The onset of digital media has metamorphosed our lives, especially the way we find, consume and use news.

It is a common belief that the age-old print media — newspapers, magazines, books — is faced with unprecedented threats from new-media vehicles, especially the Internet which is a whirlpool of information. In his book, The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint will die in America as the last exhausted reader will toss aside the last crumpled edition.

Delivering a lecture a few years ago at the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University, former Editor-at-Large of Time Inc, Daniel Okrent professed, “Twenty, thirty, at the outside 40 years from now, we will look back on the print media the way we look back on travel by horse and carriage, or by wind-powered ship.” He advanced numerous arguments to support this dictum.

Technology evolves — we have fast moved from main frame computers to laptops — which for Okrent, was his professional life's ‘locus, library and liver'. The speed is enthralling and captivating, making us all subservient to it — our crave for processors' speed today is as pressing as nomads hunt for leafs! The hurried prose of the daily newspapers, what many be called the first rough drafts of history, is giving way to ever-modifiable contents of the web.

The rhetoric is backed by empirical evidence as well. The Newspaper Association of America had found that the number of people employed in the print industry fell by 18 per cent between 1990 and 2004. Tumbling shares of listed newspaper firms have attracted ire of investors. In 2005, a group of shareholders in Knight Ridder, the owner of several big American dailies, got the firm sell its papers and thus end a 114-year history. In 2006, investment bank Morgan Stanley attacked the New York Times Company, the most august journalistic institution of all, because its share price had fallen by nearly half in four years.

More recently, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, in its World Press Trends Survey 2016, found that barring India and China, newspaper circulation in most developed countries were on a decline. Print unit circulation increased by +4.9 per cent globally in 2015 from a year earlier and showed a five-year growth of +21.6 per cent. This is largely the result of circulation growth in India, China and elsewhere in Asia as expanding literacy, economic growth, and low copy prices boost newspaper consumption. India and China together accounted for an astonishing 62 per cent of global average daily print unit circulation in 2015, up from 59 per cent in 2014. According to this report, available on the Internet, circulation rose +7.8 per cent in Asia in 2015 from a year earlier; it fell -2.4 per cent in North America, -2.7 per cent in Latin America, -2.6 per cent in the Middle East and Africa, -4.7 per cent  in Europe and -5.4 per cent in Australia and Oceania.

The instant cause of beneficiary of this has been the Internet. The Businessweek, in an April 2010 article, ‘The Print Media Are Doomed', captured the marketing logic for the continued demise of newspapers: “It's not that print is bad. It's that digital is better. It has too many advantages (and there'll only be more): Ubiquity, speed, permanence, searchability, the ability to update, the ability to remix, targeting, interaction, marketing via links, data feedback. Digital transcends the limitations of-and incorporates the best of-individual media.” Do we jump on to conclude that the print is dead, or it is the beginning of the end of print? I shall be circumspect, yet. Especially given that the reading habits of newspapers are ingrained culturally into many of us including our younger generation. The speed and the ceaseless chaos the Internet has caused is another factor that will push many away from Internet.

The abyss-like character of the Internet, I am afraid, may turn us into blind crawlers, meandering endlessly, constantly exposed to the vulnerability of information overload. Internet will confuse us, constrict our thinking, corrupt our senses. We may resort back to print, for all you know. Okrent may take a leaf out the new-found obsession of modern civilisation with ancient practices such as yoga and ayurveda. Only the form of the print may change in the context of the rise of the Internet. It shall not be the death of print yet, but birth of in-print.

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