Saturday, January 30, 2010

Imagining the Death of Print ... and the Birth of, Well, Something Else

In two previous posts -- click here and here -- I asked some questions about the future of traditional print media and the larger implications for all news reporting.

With the release this past week of Apple's iPad, a whole bunch more questions and proposals came up, and this one and this one (and now this one) sounded a little familiar.

But, enough about me, what do you think about ... news on paper?

Using Twitter, Facebook and email, I put out a question: If you knew that news would no longer be available on paper in, say, one year, what would you do?

The respondees include folks not working in media but also quite a few who do (obviously, the one constant is they all use computers to one degree or another, as that's how I asked them the question).

You will draw your own conclusions once you read these replies -- and I'd love to hear from you in the comments -- but my immediate takeaway from this is that few folks working outside of media really comprehend that online news is either largely a product of, or dependent on, content from traditional print and wire sources (and while those working in media know this, many just read stuff online for free and hope for the best).

Even fewer have internalized the fact that their enjoyment of free news is heavily dependent on revenue from those "backward" folks who still buy paper news and magazines and thereby contribute to the calculation of advertising revenues, which are still greater in print than online.

It's like standing on the shoulders of giants and thinking you're just really tall.

But human nature is what it is. As infomercial king Kevin Harrington said on my other blog, "I'm a consumer, and I want what I want."

That still leaves the problem of how to pay to give consumers what they want in the way they want it. The issue is being studied widely, including by the Newseum, and by the makers of this upcoming documentary film (who had an awesome trailer on YouTube, which they have inexplicably removed).

As always, the people have the final word, as they do here.

Here are the responses from Twitter:

* It's strange, but even though I started my journalism career writing for newspapers, I haven't read one regularly in maybe a decade.

* What are newspapers going to do if we no longer read them in print?

* Honestly, now that you've got me thinking about it, I realize that I so rarely look at news on paper, I wouldn't much notice.

* Tweet one: Does that assume evything now in print wd be online? Or that print sub & ad revenue wd disappear, taking many outlets with them?
Tweet two: Yr tweeps, I suspect, are assuming that cd still read evything they can today online, for free. Wd that it were so.
Tweet three, responding to my tweet that the assumption was that it would be online (don't know about the "free" bit, though): Then I wd be grateful for the miracle that enabled that to happen. Tho sad for my mom, who has no computer & lives in 3G dead zone.

(Above from a working magazine journalist)

* Start my own newspaper or magazine.

* If news was not available on paper tomorrow it wouldn't affect me at all. I all my news on the web. Sunday newspaper = coupons.

* I would not care. The only thing I would miss is the NY Times crossword puzzle. All my news comes online or TV.

* Nothing. I rarely read the newspaper now.

* What's paper???

(Above from a wiseacre reality-TV star)

* I barely read the paper as it is. So not much.

* Hoard print like a mother f---er.

* Probably nothing. It's been forever since I regularly read the news in hard copy.

* Subscribe to Yahoo news feed online -- not a big deal.

* I'd worry about the potential job losses, but it wouldn't really impact me, personally.

* It would not bother me. I get my news online already, when I want to read the news. Too much misery nowadays.

* TV, online, vids, etc., to get news if newsprint ws ... too sad to even contemplate.

* Hey, Kate, it's already happening at my library. We get more & more journals online. I honestly dunno what I'd do re: news.

* I'd be devastated. I love reading the paper every morning.

From Facebook ...

* Read it online or on my Blackberry, like I do now, but still lament the lost of the tactile-ness of paper.

* Not even notice.

(Above from a working online journalist)

* Have (my fiance) continue to watch CNN and keep me posted.

From email ...

* The computer is the devil.

* Since I generally read newspapers and magazines for the tactile experience and ease of reading (especially longer, in-depth articles and books), I would be disappointed, but would generally adapt to reading news online at specific news sites. I also might consider purchasing a Kindle, Apple iPad or something similar.

* I wouldn't be happy. While I know that news in the paper in the morning is already out-of-date by the time I read it with my dinner in the evening, still, that's when I have the time to read it. I get NY Times updates throughout the day, when something important (and sometimes not-so-important) happens, and that's good enough. And I do check the local TV-station websites for weather, etc.

* Nothing. I don't read it in print anymore, anyway.

(Above from a working newspaper journalist and blogger)

* MYOP (Make Your Own Paper) Subscribe to a daily customized online digest of everything I actually care about. Local news and style pieces from the (Washington) Post; community doings in the Gazette; think pieces from the (New York) Times and the (Wall Street) Journal; entertainment news from Cuppa, and woo-hoo! No more sports! Add in some weekly features from the Economist and The Week, and I'm a happy woman. That, or just keep listening to NPR.

* I would do my best to find an online news provider who actually PAID reporters to report the news. A news provider with an editorial staff -- meaning not only copy editing but content editing. I want lackeys reporting to bosses! I also would like to PAY for this service, because otherwise I don't see how these editors and reporters are being paid. I'd most likely access this news from my computer, because that's where I am all the time.
I still haven't found an ereader that has caught my fancy. I guess I'd start looking for one I could read while lying on my back on my couch or in my EZ Boy chair. This laptop thing requires that I sit bolt upright like a student or, like, say, a television writer writing.
I want my news to come from the pros. Even the pros I hate and rail against. I've had it with the amateurs.

(Above from a working TV writer/producer)

* What, you mean people still read print?

* I'll absolutely have no problem with that. I'd do nothing special except for, maybe, sorting out more carefully where to go online for the latest info.

* I'd get pretty annoyed, as I still like my weekend newspapers (no need to boot up, no terrible consequences if I spill coffee on it). But I'd continue watching the evening news on TV, on a local station. I don't get much news on the computer. If I am online, I am busy doing something else besides perusing the news.

* I'd be sad, since I'm a tactile person, and newspapers are kind of comforting. However, if we decided to spare the trees, I'd read the news online. Although, sitting on the porch on a summer Sunday with a cup of coffee and a netbook somehow wouldn't have the same charm.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A World of News in Your Hand -- Cheap

With the Consumer Electronics Show underway in Las Vegas as I type, e-readers are the hot topic. With Amazon's Kindle (left) and Barnes & Noble's Nook having generated most of the buzz pre-show (they're primarily designed for reading books, natch), the new talk is about larger e-readers, ones that can show color, etc.

In other words, these are e-readers tailored for the reading of newspaper- and magazine-style content, which traditionally is a much bigger page than books, with color photos, pie charts, graphs and so on. Some even have touchscreens or let you take notes.

I don't have an e-reader, mostly because they're pretty pricey, and I have quite enough pricey electronics with short shelf lives in my possession right now. But, I might be persuaded ...

Back at the beginning of this blog early last summer, I explored the future of news, asking questions about what might become of the traditional news delivery systems (inky newsprint, in particular) and why people paid for them.

So here's the question I've been asking myself about e-readers -- why would I pay $250 and up (and up) for a device that still made me pay for additional content? I'm cheap to be sure, but as of yet, the cost-benefit ratio just hasn't worked for me.

But, what if I could get an e-reader for less than $100 (I like $50, but again, cheap), if I also agreed to an extended subscription for a local newspaper? It's much like the deep discount offered on mobile handsets in exchange for an extended service contract with the mobile provider.

Perhaps the deal could be sweetened with access to the newspapers' sister publications around the country (for example, I work for Tribune Company, and we have several newspapers, along with some specialty publications). Perhaps deals could be struck with magazine publishers to bundle in a few of those at a bargain price. And there could even be original content produced just for e-reader subscribers.

I would then have an e-reader on the cheap, with a ready-made cornucopia of content. Of course, I could download books and whatever else I wanted to the device. Having a device that could only display the subscription content that was part of the original deal would be, well, stupid.

And of course, I would want the ability to see all the cool multimedia content offered on news sites.

You may say, "But Accidental Futurist, I can read all this stuff on my laptop, or on my netbook or on my mobile device!"

Yes, you may, provided the newspapers keep giving their stuff away for free on the Internet.

But even if they do, one upside of e-readers is that they make reading print on a screen as easy on the eyes as reading on paper. And once you've loaded the content into them, you don't need an Internet connection to keep reading. And you won't go blind from peering at tiny screens.

And all this might be worth it, if they were CHEAP enough. And it just might allow e-readers to have a longstanding niche in the market (if you believe some reports, that's far from assured).

Would you buy fancy mobile phones and PDAs if you had to pay the full list price? Look at the list prices once in a while and compare to what you paid. You may faint.

Look, I'm no genius. This idea is already being floated out in the world. My question to you is -- would you bite? And if not, why not?

BTW, when I floated this idea on Twitter, somebody told me that she's just old-fashioned and prefers the feel of a newspaper or a book. Fair enough -- if you believe that both of these things will survive in their current form.

Good luck with that.

UPDATE: E-readers beware, it looks like Steve Jobs' new Apple Tablet is aiming to be one-stop-shopping for print AND TV. Click here for more.

UPDATE: This is why I said a discounted ereader, not a free one.