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    Print is the Next Big Thing

    by Michael Josefowicz
    February 11, 2009
    One of America's first champions of the printed word, Benjamin Franklin helped popularize newspapers as the medium was just getting started. Print still remains a vital medium even today in the digital age.

    I am delighted to have the opportunity to be the new “print correspondent” for MediaShift. Every two weeks or so I will be reporting, discussing, opining and answering comments about how new print technology can help untangle some of the problems facing newspaper companies and the future of journalism.

    Newspaper companies are looking for ways to profit in a new media world. Journalists meanwhile, need to figure out how to educate, entertain, inform and make a living do it. Although largely unnoticed by journalists, advances in print technology might turn out to be key to the new information network delivery system. A closer look at print might help reporters and publishers. In future columns, I will look at some generally under-appreciated properties of print that might prove key to solving both groups’ problems:

    Print is a physical search platform that doesn't need key words and makes it easy to stumble upon new ideas and facts."

    1. The best interactive tools for learning are still a page of print and a highlighter.
    2. Print is the best search platform in proximate physical space.
    3. Print can be seen as a toy, a token or a tool — something that people have and will continue to gladly pay for.
    4. Once print is connected to cloud computing, everything will change again.

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    But only so much can fit in one post. For now, let’s just talk tech.

    POD is the tip of the iceberg

    New technology is making it easier than ever to produce print. We may soon see something similar to what happened when Adobe introduced Postscript, linking typography to laser printers. Since typography is the real magical mystery, Adobe’s seemingly minor invention led to the tipping point for desktop publishing.

    i-e85fabfb12330c13c456ca34cb53b135-lulu grab.jpg

    Most people are aware of Print on Demand (POD) book publishing. Lightning Source serves publishing companies, has plants in the U.S. and the U.K. and has produced more that 7 millions titles in just a few years, while Lulu.com serves prosumers and offers “products from a million creators. Books, artwork, CDs and more.” Lulu also makes it possible to sell books from their website, before printing even one copy.

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    The technology behind this “overnight” transformation started in 1990, when Xerox introduced the DocuTech, which is generally credited with starting the POD industry. It took from 1990 to 2008 to go mainstream because all the pieces have to be in place for a tipping point to occur. Unfortunately, even 98% doesn’t do it.

    Other print technologies are now coming online. Consider this story at one my favorite print dweeb websites, Graphic Arts Online: Newsworld Corp. selected an AlphaGraphics franchise (Note: AlphaGraphics is what outsiders to the trade would call a copy shop) to print U.S. copies of the U.K.’s Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday. The publisher will buy a Screen Truepress Jet520 on-demand newsprint solution with a dedicated Standard Hunkeler finishing system to be installed at a Dayton, N.J.-based printer. AlphaGraphics parent company Pindar is based in the U.K.

    So some newspapers are realizing that print isn’t so archaic after all.

    The right tool for the right job

    The Internet is telephone + TV + search + a big filing cabinet + the best way to buy and sell stuff ever invented. It is optimized for speed, access, storage and search. The Internet is a conversational media. Conversation is good, life affirming, and a necessary part of human life. Manuel Castells, in “The Rise of the Network Society,” published in 1996, has it pretty right when he said, “While print favors systematic exposition, TV is best suited to casual conversation.”

    The addition of the filing cabinet and search is slowly evolving toward something else. But we still have quite a way to go.

    But the Internet, like TV, is not optimized for logical thinking or learning. Ask yourself how many times you’ve done a second read on a blog post. Then consider if that first read gave your brain enough time to make any new connections or did it just lead to the reflexive back and forth we so often see in blog comments.

    Print has evolved over 500 years to be the medium that nurtures logical thought and learning. Print is a physical search platform that doesn’t need key words and makes it easy to stumble upon new ideas and facts. In Print, ideas and facts are fixed in time. New patterns in the brain have time to form. The distinction between reading something online and reading it in print might be compared to the difference between simply decoding words and letting the ideas that are represented by those words rumble around the head for a while.

    What problems can the Internet solve?

    Waves of creative destruction often lead to better organization of intelligence. My sense is that the destroying stage is coming to an end. We are now entering the inventing and growing stage.

    It can take years for a communication ecology to get to a phase change. The last couple of years have been confusing and pretty awful. That’s the destructive part. Eventually enough new approaches emerge on the ground. That’s the inventing part. Then all the pieces start falling into place. That’s the growing part. Once the networked pieces start generating income, tipping points occur.

    Almost every community in the United States now has numerous e-communities. Some, although not many, of those communities have “town squares” that host an active marketplace of ideas in a civil, intelligent public discourse. Some, although not many, have journalists — either professionals working for a local newspaper or independent prosumers — to moderate and inform those ongoing, self-generated, rambunctious conversations.

    Those e-communities are the real Next Big Thing. Thankfully their growth is well under way.

    There has been much talk about how newspapers have to start communities. Given the spontaneous growth, my take is that they have to join the communities already in progress. Their real value is to help by informing and moderating so that conversations can more quickly turn into discussions. (Martin Langeveld of Nieman Journalism Lab made a great post last week called a “A cafe shaped conversation” that helps clarify the distinction I’m trying to make between a conversation and a discussion.)

    Web Will Not Solve Newspapers’ Problems

    What I see happening in the newspaper industry is the destruction of social capital created by the media. These companies’ bad business decisions have eroded the trust between people and the media, while talented, experienced, hard-working people in newspaper companies now have to worry about their jobs.

    i-3e055b8534765419af2454cfdefa592a-alan_d._mutter.jpg
    Alan Mutter

    Some think that print is the root of the problem and that transitioning to the web is a panacea for newspapers’ woes. But last week, newspaper uber-blogger Alan Mutter posted a four part series showing why a purely Internet-based strategy would not make business sense for an established newspaper company. Mutter suggested that newspapers could adopt cost-per-acquisition advertising as part of their business model but noted:

    Because the revenues associated with cost-per-acquisition advertising are going to be lower than the print and online rates typically charged by newspapers, publishers will have to sell advertising to far more small and medium advertisers than they historically have done.

    And consider David Black, a publisher who has quietly bought up print newspapers just as most are dismissing the medium as dead. In a story in the Seattle Weekly on July 15, 2008, Don Ward gives a good picture of why Black is nicely profitable:

    The supposed decline of print media is not in fact an industry-wide phenomenon. Community newspapers have generally been profitable ventures for some time, and over the past decade have attracted the attention of media giants looking for publications that can positively contribute to the parent corporation’s bottom line.

    I take from this that the problem at hand is not the decline of print per se, but rather the decline of some newspaper and publishing companies due to poor business decisions. It’s the same as how the decline of companies like GM, Chrysler and Ford does not mean that there is something wrong with the concept of the automobile. It just means that a bunch of companies got into more debt than they could pay back. A difficult problem, no doubt. But it’s not my problem.

    The Answer is Print + Digital

    At the risk of what might seem like shameless self-promotion, I looked at a snippet of Michael Kinsley’s Feb. 10 New York Times Op-Ed “You Can’t Sell News by the Slice” in my post It’s the Paper, Stupid. The germane part of Kinsley’s piece is:

    A more promising idea is the opposite: Give away the content without the paper. In theory, a reader who stops paying for the physical paper but continues to read the content online is doing the publisher a favor. If the only effect of the Internet on newspapers was a drastic reduction in their distribution costs, publishers could probably keep a bit of that savings, rather than passing all of it and more on to the readers.

    I propose that the solution is not purely print or digital, but rather both. My three step idea is:

    1. Use the web to identify fans.
    2.Then use the web to sell them stuff they want to buy.
    3. Use print to sell local advertising.

    A website can be thought of as a candy store. Using a simple application like StatCounter, it is easy to see how long each visitor stayed at a page and how often they came back. When they enter from a Google search, they are a browser. If they stay for over 15 seconds, they are a customer. If they come back, they are a return customer. If you find yourself on their RSS feed, you are well on your way to having identified a new fan.

    And once you’ve located enough fans, you have a fan base. If you can invent the right product to sell them, they will willingly buy it. If they don’t, it just means you have to keep re-inventing the product until you get it right. Then you can use the web for what it’s best at: selling stuff, faster, better, cheaper than ever before.

    Meanwhile, until you can find and invent the right product line for your fans, newspapers have the advantage of selling local ads to local businesses for local distribution. And that’s an easy sale because local businesses know that most people don’t use the Internet when strolling through the mall. But they do carry coupons from the local newspaper or shopper…

    Michael Josefowicz spent 30 years at Red Ink Productions, a boutique print production brokerage he co-founded which served New York-based design studios and non-profit organizations. He came out of retirement to teach production at Parsons The New School for Design for the next 7 years. He now blogs about print at Print in the Communication Ecology and about the digital printing industry at Tough Love for Xerox.

    Tagged: advertising newspapers print print-on-demand technology
    • OOOOPS: Funny typo in sentence about typogrophy. >>Since typography is the real magical mystery, Abode’s seemingly minor invention led to the tipping point for desktop publishing.<< "Abode" should be "Adobe."

    • OOOOPS: and I had a typo with “typogrophy.” It happens to all of us.

    • Just goes to show that world needs more really really good editors and . . . . maybe less journalists…(but no spam now. I promise I’ll give everyone a chance in the next post.

    • Lex

      “If you can invent the right product to sell them, they will willingly buy it.”

      Only if they can’t get it for free somewhere else. There is so much information available free that people are less and less interested in buying it – unless you have a niche audience.

      We have reached saturation. Information, in and of itself, has zero value now. People will buy less and less newspapers when they can get news for free online. Uniqueness will generate loyalty – otherwise people just have too much to choose from to care.

      So many people have moved over to the other model – give the content away free and sell advertising space – that it’s difficult to compete.

      However, nothing beats a real book or magazine sometimes. Humans will always long for a tactile experience – and I think that if you can provide something that people cannot get any other way, you can survive.

    • Lex,
      You say ‘”People will buy less and less newspapers when they can get news for free online.’ My take is that people don’t want the “news”, they want headlines and, of course, the latest gossip.

      In addition to the human touch interaction with “information” that is a book. The web only exists now. Blog posts have a half life of about 2 days.

      But facts and stories in a book last long enough to let them sink in.

    • If you’re looking for fresh headlines, you’ll go with internet techs. I agree as what Michael J said, “books last long enough to let them sink in.” books are books, there are stuffs that internet media cannot replace. It’s the traditional way of informing and gathering data.
      Distance Education Degree

    • @KaedinLytle,
      I’ve always believed that Printed On Demand textbooks to supplement the web learning of distance learning should be a big deal.

      Have you seen any of that happening? As a distance learning person – nice site by the way- do you think it could make a big difference?

      I’m thinking of doing a “textbook” from an online discussion for students so they could better consider who said what, when. And take the knowledge that they have earned on line and carry it with them.

    • Michael,

      Welcome to MediaShift. Although I agree with the conclusion you reach in your first article (that the combination of printed content and digital communities will be the best way forward for newspapers) I don’t agree with most of the statements you made along the way to that conclusion.

      First of all, you seem to imply that all print journalism is good and that the Internet offers nothing but lame teenage blogs. I realize that you are the “print correspondent” and therefore I would expect you to evangelize about the virtues of print, but come on. The Internet has enabled a wide variety of writers, publishers and citizen journalists to get their ideas and information into the marketplace without the costs, space restrictions, or filter of traditional media channels. Of course the quality varies, but a lot of the “journalism” that I see in print is only valuable as litter box lining. We all must decide what to read, and which sources to trust regardless of the delivery medium.

      Secondly, the Internet was designed specifically for two-way communication. It’s obviously better at that function than print. And paper is still much better to read on the beach, or in the bathroom, than a notebook computer, so both will continue filling their respective roles for a long time to come. Newspaper publishers just kept their heads in the sand for too long or they would be the publishing innovators today instead of wringing their hands over falling market share.

      Here are a few other specific comments starting with the “under-appreciated properties of print”:

      1. The best interactive tools for learning are still a page of print and a highlighter.

      That depends on the subject doesn’t it? I’d rather have my pilots spending more time at a computer or flight simulator, and surgeons won’t learn to wield a scalpel from a book.

      2. Print is the best search platform in proximate physical space.

      If there’s one thing computers are really good at, better than our brains even, it’s search. There’s just no way I could find all the things I care about in even a single printed issue of the New York Times, much less a month or year’s worth. And I can do that online searching with my phone which is almost always in my pocket.

      3. Print can be seen as a toy, a token or a tool — something that people have and will continue to gladly pay for.

      I thought the whole problem here is that subscribers and advertisers both are quickly becoming less “glad” to pay.

      4. Once print is connected to cloud computing, everything will change again.

      Print (information as opposed to paper) is already connected to cloud computing in Amazon’s Kindle, and consumers seem to be voting for it with their wallets. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, La Monde, Forbes, Time, other publications and over 200,000 books are available instantly and wirelessly. According to The Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123419309890963869.html) “Kindle has been so popular that it was out of stock over the key December holiday-shopping period for the last two years.”

      Your “let’s talk tech” article didn’t even mention e-paper (http://chinese.engadget.com/2009/02/06/a3-sized-epaper/)

      “So some newspapers are realizing that print isn’t so archaic after all.”

      You should have said “hoping like hell” instead of “realizing.” I’m sure that Newsworld has done some consumer research about the size of the market and consumer interest, but so did the team behind New Coke. Consumers will ultimately decide, and I wouldn’t consider this a success just yet.

      “But the Internet, like TV, is not optimized for logical thinking or learning.”

      Really? A Web site called elearners.com lists over 200 online colleges and universities offering over 6,000 online courses leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees. Are these professors and students not engaged in logical thinking or learning? And what about Sesame Street? Millions of kids around the world got their start at reading from that TV program. You’re just trying to blame the Internet, a delivery medium, for all the bad content you seem to keep reading.

      “Print has evolved over 500 years to be the medium that nurtures logical thought
      and learning.”

      Print, as a delivery device for words and pictures, really hasn’t changed in 500 years. Presses are faster, soy ink is more environmentally friendly, and desktop publishing has improved layout, but that hardly moves ideas into brains faster or makes the knowledge stick there any better.

      Sorry this got to be so long, but you asked for it.

    • Hi Robert,
      Thanks for the welcome. I’ll try to go through your points one at a time.

      “First of all, you seem to imply that all print journalism is good and that the Internet offers nothing but lame teenage blogs”

      Nope. I think the most journalism, most of the time is pretty lame, whether in print or on the web.

      “Secondly, the Internet was designed specifically for two-way communication.”

      Yup. That’s what I meant by telephone + TV +…
      The telephone as opposed to the telegraph is two way communication for masses of people. That’s why the number of cell phones keep growing and growing. It’s not to access the internet.

      “If there’s one thing computers are really good at, better than our brains even, it’s search”

      Except that our brains get a much wider ranges of signals from the physical world. As long as you are talking only about words. Search on the web is ok. But once the visual elements that process in the background come into play, physical world wins. In physical world, Print combines words and a highly evolved information architecture. So, I stand by my statement.

      “I thought the whole problem here is that subscribers and advertisers both are quickly becoming less “glad” to pay.”

      That’s because publishers don’t want to face the fact or a kidding themselves that people buy newspapers for the information. It’s not about the information. It’s about a token, as in “people like us buy that” or a toy “the crossword puzzle”, or a tool “where can I get an widget close by at a good price.”

      “Print (information as opposed to paper) is already connected to cloud computing”

      I’m talking about cell phones getting a QR code from a Paper print object and being taken to a website.

      As for talking about e paper. That’s for a later column.

      “Really? A Web site called elearners.com lists over 200 online colleges and universities offering over 6,000 online courses leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees. Are these professors and students not engaged in logical thinking or learning?”

      Are most students engaged in logical thinking or learning? Not likely. Do you ever wonder why with all the investment in technology our numbers don’t get better? As for offering elearning, it’s a great business model. “I give you a cert and you don’t even have to show up.”

      “You’re just trying to blame the Internet, a delivery medium, for all the bad content you seem to keep reading.”

      To be clear, I believe that most of the content produced through out most of human history is average or less than average. The only difference today is that we get see more of it. When mass book printing emerged during the Victorian age, most of what was printed is what I would consider trash. Excellence is always a very rare commodity, in Print, in conversations, or on the web.

      “Print, as a delivery device for words and pictures, really hasn’t changed in 500 years.”

      I’ll leave that response to later columns.

      If I left anything out, please let me know.

    • Just noticed that I left out the stuff about newsworld.
      “I’m sure that Newsworld has done some consumer research about the size of the market”

      The issue is not the size of the market, the issue is the profitability of the market.

    • Oops. One more,
      . The best interactive tools for learning are still a page of print and a highlighter.

      That depends on the subject doesn’t it? I’d rather have my pilots spending more time at a computer or flight simulator, and surgeons won’t learn to wield a scalpel from a book.

      You got me on that one. What I should have said was for learning how to think logically.

    • Twitter can only do so much.

      The public still relies on news organizations to get the who, what, when, where and why of what is going on, something you can’t do in a 140 characters.

    • Actually my take is that the public has mostly turned away from most MSM, exactly because they have a very hard time focusing on the who, what, when, where or why of what is going on.

      It seems that is much easier to rewrte AP stories or participate in the echo chamber.

      Consider that Pres Obama keeps calling it a Recovery and Reinvestment Bill. And the mainstream media is trapped by a “stimulus package.”

    • I propose that the solution is not purely print or digital, but rather both. My three step idea is:

      1. Use the web to identify fans.
      2.Then use the web to sell them stuff they want to buy.
      3. Use print to sell local advertising.

    • Exactly!

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