Pulp Fiction: Is Print Dead?

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This week at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced the next version of the iPhone: The iPhone 3GS. During the event, Josh Koppel from Scroll Motion came up on stage to talk about their Iceberg Reader. They currently offer 500 books and will soon offer 50 magazines, 120 newspapers, and over one million book titles available for the iPhone.  

On May 5th, Amazon introduced the Kindle DX - a thin, tablet device sporting a 9.7 inch e-ink paper display with 16 shades of gray. Many textbooks will be available for education, and they have announced pilot programs with major newspapers like The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. They already have over 275,000 books available on amazon.com. Amazon also recently purchased Lexcycle, makers of the popular Stanza e-reader for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

So the question is: Are we ready to replace certain forms of traditional ink on paper with these digital readers as a means of getting our news, education, and entertainment gossip? I mean will the fact that Jon and Kate (from Jon and Kate plus 8) are having marital problems be any less riveting at 72 pixels per inch vs. 150 dots per inch?


Three iPhone digital reader applications (from left): ScrollMotion's Iceberg Reader , Classics,  and Amazon's Stanza. All available at Apple's App Store. Note how traditional book shelves and page turning are simulated in these e-readers.


I recall going to the Seybold Seminars in Boston and New York in the late 90s and experiencing all the emerging vendors of e-readers and e-books. They even had an e-books pavilion on the exhibit floor. If you bought into their sales pitch 10 years ago, by now we should have a digital reader on every desk in every school, everybody would download the latest best seller to their eBook, and all the newspapers would be carried around as a bunch of ones and zeros in a handy digital device vs. a bunch of CMYK ink drops pressed onto the fibers from a dead tree.

10 years ago you would be reading these words on some printed newsletter that Widen may have sent you via snail mail. Instead, you are reading this on a computer display via a blog on our Website. Unless you saw fit to print out a hard copy for your viewing pleasure. In which case it still fits into the distribute and print model compared with the print and distribute model. Either way, the times are changing.

Is Print Dead?
So is print dead? Hardly. Along with new technologies or special interests, comes a half dozen new magazine titles on them. Printed packaging will always be needed to hold products. And any cataloger will tell you that while they may maintain a dynamic Web presence for their e-commerce efforts, it is still the printed catalog that often drives much of the traffic to their websites. Print is still the ultimate push medium while the Internet is primarily a pull medium for now. Some newspapers have folded and others will continue to struggle as subscribers fall and costs rise. More and more people get all their news, sports and weather from the Internet because of its timely and dynamic content. You can't watch video highlights of the baseball game that just ended an hour ago in a newspaper any more than you can check the radar on the back page of section A of USA Today. Actually, I think it would be pretty funny if a newspaper published radar images on the weather page - "Uh, yea, that line of storms came through, like, 16 hours ago. And how do I get the image to loop?" Maybe they could do a different frame of the radar animation in the bottom corner of every page and it would appear to move as you flipped the pages just like those little flip animation books. But I digress...

In order to get the average book lover to but down their paperback and pick up an e-book, these devices try to emulate the traditional paperback experience. The covers of the digital books are displayed on a digital book shelf. The digital pages are animated as the e-reader flips the page to the left. A sound of a page turning can be heard. There is a digital bookmark available to hold your place. I'm sure there are companies investing R&D money into designing a way of adding the smell of ink and paper to an e-book or providing the occasional paper cut as digital pages are turned. Simulating the analog is often how we transition to the digital. It makes for more converts.


Amazon's Kindle DX e-book tablet sports a large 9.7-inch e-ink paper display with 16 shades of gray, making it ideal for newspapers, magazines, and graphic-rich textbooks.

Paper or Plastic?

Then there is the whole green movement that printers are facing. Actually, many printers are some of the biggest recyclers around. At Quad/Graphics, 98.6 percent of all solid waste that left their printing plants in 2007 went into a recycling stream. Their goal is to become 100 percent landfill-free. And let's not forget the printers of grocery bags. It used to be that they asked you if you wanted paper or plastic at the checkout lane. Now if you ask for either, you are given the evil eye by the tree-hugging checkout kid with the 12 nose rings. You are now expected to buy your own canvas bags and bring them to the grocery store each time. Instead of buying my own grocery bags, I am just going to buy some really big pants with huge pockets and carry my groceries home that way. Spacious pockets for Hot Pockets.... Okay, I'm officially sliding off topic now.

Is print dying a very slow death? Maybe. My crystal ball is in the shop, so I can't say for sure. I do think certain segments of print will be gone or certainly much smaller in a generation or so. I know people that could never read a book or magazine on a digital device. These are the same folks that were raised on the World Book Encyclopedias, the Sunday paper (with a bagel and coffee), and Eddie Bauer catalogs. But their place on this earth will gradually be replaced by the generation that grew up on the Wii, Xbox, and Landsend.com. And those people are right at home in front of light-emitting pixels.

A Multitude of Media Methods
Today's marketing professionals have many choices of media to get their message out. Traditional electronic methods of TV and radio now find themselves rubbing elbows with Websites sporting RSS feeds and streaming video, text messaging, LED billboards, blogs and podcasts to name just a few. And let's not forget the exploding social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Will the high school graduating class of 2020 have any desire to publish a printed yearbook?

For now, traditional ink-on-paper is alive and well. I am reminded of that fact every year from September - December as I begin taking scores of catalogs out of my mailbox each day. Some people hate junk mail. I like it. Because I know somewhere it is keeping a designer designing, a photographer shooting, a prepress or premedia service provider providing prepress services, a printer printing, a digital asset management solutions provider providing digital asset solutions, and a mail carrier investing in chiropractic services. Of course e-commerce and cross media publishing keeps most of those people busy too. But you get the idea.

Print is portable, never needs to be restarted, never needs batteries or recharging, and is easily viewed in bright sunlight. Print keeps the economy moving.

At least for now.


Topics: Creative

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