Turning inner space into outer space

July 24, 2014

How much longer can newspapers compete in a digital world?

Garbage bin made of recycled newspapers

The journey I have taken away from newspapers is summed up well in this blog post by Kevin Sablan at Almighty Link:

I’ve found a platform that fulfils my news-reading needs. My Internet-powered cellphone has replaced you, and it’s time for us to go our separate ways. To be honest, newspaper, I’ve been using my new platform for years now, while I’ve tossed you into the recycle bin nearly every day.

I’m not saying that you’re a bad product, but I just don’t need you anymore. I wish you well, and I’m sure you’ll continue to make your habitual readers happy.

I’ve had that feeling ever since I got an iPhone a couple of years ago. I needed one for work and had to be talked into it. But it didn’t take long before I was hooked on this new way of getting news.

The news on my iPhone is always up to date, it’s all in one place, it’s almost infinite in what’s available, and I can carry it around in my pocket. I have nothing against newspapers, but they simply can’t compete on this level.

I think of newspapers the same way I do about record albums of old. The art work was often spectacular, and they came packed with posters or a booklet with lyrics. They were more than just music — they were an experience.

Two that come to mind are Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. They touched you emotionally on many levels.

The same holds true of newspapers. It’s not just about the news — it’s about the incisive choices made by editors, the beautiful layouts crafted by deskers, the care taken by reporters to write enduring works. Plus the tactile nature of the paper itself.

But all that comes at a price. At most they can only be updated once a day, and you don’t get to see the latest news until several hours later because it needs to be physically delivered to your door. Papers are portable, but it takes only a day at most before the contents are mostly irrelevant and ready for recycling. And with limited space, there are only so many stories they can contain.

Newspapers continue to survive in some communities because they are supported by advertisers. But how much longer will that last? For a glance at the future, just look at Facebook’s recent earnings report. The newspaper industry can only look with envy at that kind of success. And where does it come from? Largely from advertising dollars that used to go into print.

As much as I will always have an emotional attachment to newspapers, those feelings are increasingly akin nostalgia.

Image credit: Learn how to make a recycled paper basket like the one above at the How To Recycle blog.