Why Print Publishing is Doomed

At least in my opinion.

This morning, while preparing to write a blog entry about the importance of creating a meaningful bio for your social networking presence, I came across a link in my Twitter stream:

jenniferwhitley Reading @cshirky: “We don’t need newspapers, we need journalism.” http://tinyurl.com/bpxulr

Easily distracted by any task at hand, I followed the link. I found myself on a plain vanilla — indeed, default WordPress template — blog page with a long column of full-justified text just large enough to read without putting on my cheaters. It was unbroken by advertising (including unattractive or animated ads featuring jiggling fat bodies), images (including meaningless stock photos, inserted as eye candy), or even subheadings (used by so many writers, including me, to help the reader skip head to the “important” parts). It was pure content with only a trio of centered asterisks to indicate a shift in the author’s thought.

And it was good.

The blog post, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” was by Clay Shirky. It summarized what has brought us to the middle of a revolution in publishing. Print publications are discovering that they can’t compete with the Internet for content delivery, no matter what they try. They’ve refused to see the reality of what’s going on. As a result, they’re not able to survive in the changing world of publishing.

Shirky compares what’s going on with the Internet and publishing today with the revolution of Gutenberg’s movable type and Aldus Manutius’s introduction of small “octavo” volumes that were less expensive to produce and easier to carry around. (I wonder…if Web publishing can be compared to movable type, can e-books and devices like the Kindle be compared to octavo volumes?) These innovation changed publishing. The brought about a revolution in how information was shared and who had access to it. This isn’t any different from today — information is more widely available than ever before.

My point here is not to summarize Clay Shirky’s excellent post. Instead, I urge to you read it. If you’re a journalist or serious blogger or any kind of writer at all, the history he summarizes and the points he brings up may be vital to your understanding of what’s going on in publishing. Indeed, I wish all of my publishers and editors would read it and begin to face the reality of what’s going on in our world. I believe that what he says applies not only to newspapers and journalism but to all publishing, including the kind of work I do.

My point is this: his finely articulated, well-researched, and extremely thoughtful piece is an example of why print publishing will ultimately go the way of hand-copied, “illuminated” texts. It’s quality content, easily accessible, for free, without advertising, on the Web.

What do you think?