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Put Away the Shovel—It's Too Soon to Bury Print
When my wife and I recently dropped off our son for his freshman year at Bard College, we had the pleasure of listening to a talk by the school’s extraordinary longtime president, Leon Botstein. He noted that universities have been around since the 11th century and have endured through everything from the development of movable type to the invention of electric lights and the moon landing. They’ll survive the Internet, too, he said.
Dr. Botstein conceded that some universities—the ones where professors lecture to humungous classes of students who sit quietly taking notes—might indeed be supplanted by online learning. But he emphasized that a need would always exist for the sort of face-to-face idea exchanges that a college like Bard encourages. Those institutions provide something that you just can’t find online.
I feel similarly about print media. People have been talking about its demise for years now and, as everyone knows, some print media—particularly newspapers—are indeed struggling. That’s understandable: for much of what newspapers have traditionally delivered—such as the latest news and listings of job openings and TV programs—you can’t beat the Web. But I agree with the proponents of print who argue that for certain kinds of readers, situations and information, old-fashioned paper offers decisive advantages over the Internet. Sometimes you may want to read without being connected to Wi-Fi or cellular or making sure you’re plugged in, charged up or logged on. Perhaps you simply want to keep certain things on your shelf that won’t be lost if your hard drive fails and you neglected to backup. Maybe you like the feel of a printed book or magazine—or simply don’t want to stare at a screen for the time it takes to read War and Peace.
In situations like these and many others, print publications can come in handy. Sure, they need to evolve, letting go of things that are better accomplished online and focusing on what they do best. But I don’t believe they’ll go away anytime soon.
Of course I could be wrong. I’m the guy who initially doubted that digital photography would ever replace the “real thing.” It has, of course, because it has proven superior in almost all ways. But I think books, magazines and perhaps even newspapers are a somewhat different animal. I recall that when television first took off, a common opinion was that it would replace radio. Who needed that when the new medium offered video and audio? As it turned out, though, audio without video still makes sense in many situations—the car and the shower come to mind—and people don’t want to stare at a box all the time. (OK, at least some people don’t want to.) Dramas and comedies moved almost entirely to television—too bad, I think, as those old radio plays had their charms—but music and talk stayed where they were. There’s still a role for radio.
And, now, I think, there’s still a place for print.
The magazine I edit, Business Jet Traveler, has embraced the world of digital content; you can find us today on the Web, in your email and on iPhones and iPads. And we most certainly understand the strengths of these platforms. We can deliver and update copy in seconds, for example. And if you want to carry 50 issues of BJT in your pocket or search our content in a flash, digital is the way to go.
On the other hand, as writer James Surowiecki reported in July in the New Yorker, a recent study found that “people reading on a screen tended to skip around more and read less intensively, and plenty of research confirms that people tend to comprehend less of what they read on a screen.” He added that “the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology—easy to read, portable, durable and inexpensive.”
That statement applies equally to print magazines, of course, which is why we have no plans to abandon BJT’s paper edition. You can read it anywhere. And you’ll never have to call tech support to make it “work.”