If “Print is Dead”… it is too early to toll the bells
Celebrated Australian Author and Feminist, Germaine Greer, who has meticulously been saving her archive, has sold 150 filing cabinets to the University of Melbourne. She has, since the 1950s, used all types of items to record her thoughts - whereas her typewritten and handwritten notes pose no challenge; it is the extraction of the content stored on floppy disks, CDS and cassettes that is proving challenging for the academics, due to data deterioration, as opposed to gathering the information contained on sheets of paper, which theoretically could last hundreds of years.
USB sticks and clouds are already posing the same problems, deleting information "by mistake" with the press of a wrong button is something most of us experience while getting used to a new device. Most of the time, the information we lose is irretrievable, which is not the case with paper or even holiday photographs...
Printed book sales have increased as e-book sales have dropped for the first time in four years in 2016. Though definitive evidence as to why that is the case remains, at this point, unclear, what is certain, is that one does not need to recharge a book while on a plane or while lying under a parasol on the beach, making the medium an optimal choice.
An Italian marketing expert, in a 2011 conference held in Beirut, said he would judge CEOS based on whether he found the day's newspaper on their desk. From junior executives to ones sitting on the corner office, it is more reasonable to assume that they have read their news, either on the computer - most likely a laptop or on some form of portable device such as an ipad or telephone.
The physicality of the daily paper, whereas still here and ubiquitous, is at times becoming redundant. Lebanon's Assafir newspaper, which was due to close its printed edition earlier this year, is still being printed. An-nahar newspaper, also one of Lebanon's oldest newspapers is still in print, despite rumours that it too will soon stop its paper version and shift entirely online.
Naturally, one expects that, like The Guardian newspaper's website in the United Kingdom, which is a multi-award winner, the journalistic content will - not only be as good as the print edition - but even more regularly updated with a special blog on trending events updated with real-time news. Newspapers in the region have so far treated the online edition as an add-on to the original "bread and butter" print edition.
That is right until the printed edition stopped generating traffic and revenue, making the websites a desperate click bait operation focusing on sexually suggestive titles and provocative stories to increase its potential readers. The choice of the printed articles only highlights the desperation, which makes them a far cry from the journalistic rigor these newspapers were, for a very long time, known for and read.
In the mid-90s, An-nahar initiated a campaign that read, "The newspaper, which is not bankrolled by the reader, is bankrolled by the unknown." This statement was intentionally crafted and addressed to the readers. It also was a call for them to continue purchasing the physical edition to allow the publication to maintain its independence and integrity. Interestingly, the same newspaper chronically runs an ad in their classified section part which says "if you see this ad, then your ad can be seen".
A quick glance at a newspaper will show that it contains many ads for the day's television programmes. The logic of course is that, anyone who wants to take note of what is happening on the screen can take mental or written notes based on the ads seen in the newspaper. But much like television, which previously brought family members together, today divides them. As a consequences, the schism affected the advertising budgets allocated across the various channels. Along similar lines, newspapers are facing the same dichotomy in the presence of digital media providers. However, online seems to be the stem of new information. One no longer seeks news as much as news follows us.
A casual hashtag on Twitter, a photo on Instagram (again with an appropriate hashtag) makes one go to Google immediately to check what the fuss is all about. Oh, there has been an explosion? So and so got elected? A major fire? A political blunder? And the list continues.
With newspapers being printed once a day, it is digital websites, which offer up-tothe-minute news, even editorial or opinion pieces and analysis. Understandably, major newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Christian Science Monitor along with weeklies such as Newsweek have stopped their print editions and pooled their online resources into websites. What effect will this have on the quality of journalism is naturally a fundamental question that touches all publications in general. With few newspapers or magazines able to afford news bureaus throughout the world, most rely on agency news to repackage the content and in turn make it theirs without adding much value to the original ‘borrowed’ stories.
Despite having to navigate these troubled and uncharted waters, the print industry continues to produce new publications operating on modern business models. Some of these offer podcasts, others promote and sell art…
Yet, irrespective of services offered and topics covered, what is certain is that the readers themselves have naturally changed. At times they expect entertainment as news and at other times they expect news as entertainment. They seem to be as interested in political parties as they are in the dress that whatever star, or even female politician wore for a certain occasion… The list is as diverse as the tastes and trends themselves.
In comparing how interests shift, the articles that were written prior to the Internet, were lengthy investigative or analytical pieces that were thoroughly scrutinised and triple checked. Back then, such was the norm in those days. On the other hand, lighter shorter and more concise articles are the rule today. Still, it is refreshing that The Guardian newspaper has a section entitled "The Long Read", which is exactly what it says, very long articles on specific topics. The section became so successful it needed to have its own Twitter account to offer readers the option to comment and debate.
What once were clearly-defined features of local, international, and entertainment news, have now become hotchpotch of everything all at once. A caricature by Mazen Kerbaj made the front page of Al Akhbar newspaper, which runs in tabloid format, so that the full front page was unprecedented for a Lebanese newspaper - taken over by a caricature.
Lebanon is the birth of award-winning magazine The Outpost, the brainchild of Ibrahim Nehme, who is also following a very unconventional business plan. "A" magazine, published by the Aishti Group, also contains many ads by the in-house brands the group sells at its stores in addition to including cutting edge fashion photoshoots by some of the world's most important talents. Interestingly, the publications of the Aishti Group also include advertising from competing stores with their own brands in tow, making them more than an in-house luxury catalog.
Vogue Arabia will soon launch in the region, and as a historical first, will be digital prior to the print run. Monocle has a series of stores to sell its branded items on the force of the magazine itself. Kinfolk, Polka and Cabinet are but some of the magazines which own art galleries, and it is not unheard of for publications to organise side activities such as literary festivals and workshops such as the well-respected literary monthly Tin House in the United States - to finance their mainstream publications.
Ironically, the first video clip to be broadcast by MTV was Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star". Yet here we are still listening to the radio while witnessing how MTV itself was taken over by Youtube as the goto-source for youngsters discovering music. However, the station remains operational and even holds annual award shows that carry cause plenty of buzz throughout the media industry.
To announce the death of print is a little premature, as it might evolve in terms of content, change its business model, and adapt to the times. This does not mean we should already be dressed for the funeral, since it may never come at all.