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Newspapers Going Digital ... or are They?

You were never in the business of selling print in the first place. That just happened to be the best package you could use back in the disconnected world.

Written by on October 19, 2012

The past 2 days have been fun. First the The Telegraph published the story that "The publisher of the Guardian and Observer newspapers is close to axing the print editions of the newspapers, despite the hopes of its editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger to keep them running for several years."

The Guardian quickly said, "No!"

But the truth is, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, is that The Guardian isn't about to do any such thing.

Then the Guardian wrote that "Newsweek to axe print edition. Eighty-year-old news magazine to go digital-only from the new year and will publish single worldwide edition."

Which is actually true...
here is the official announcement.

Don't you just love it when the old media companies are fighting over who will go digital or not? :) ...and, more to the point, to observe the public's reaction to it all? Most saying something along the lines of "well, it was bound to happen at some point... wasn't it?"

If this happened 10 years ago, the public would have been in a state of shock. But now it's expected.

There are four reasons why print won't survive:

  1. Costs: Cost of distribution and cost of production.
  2. Time to market: In a connected world, it makes no sense to focus on a news product that doesn't deliver news when it happens.
  3. Convenience: While a printed newspaper is a very simple to use object. With digital you can stay in touch anytime, anywhere, on any device.
  4. Limitations of format: While text and images will always be a powerful way to communicate, we are not limited to columns of text and static images online.

I'm reminded by HOT ROD Magazine. Back in July, David Freiburger, their Editor-in-chief posted a video about the future for the magazine:

HOT ROD Magazine is a great magazine, and they are embracing the new digital formats in many very exciting ways. They just doing a great job.

But... when it comes to print we see the same problem. In this video he talks about the rich history of the HOT ROD Magazine, and how they have expanded into the digital world.

We are not just a print magazine. We got HOT ROD TV, HOT ROD Radio, huge events, apps, video shows on the MotorTrend channel on YouTube, all this stuff!
And great things are happening with them, so I need to take all those opportunities from those brand extensions and fold them into the magazine to make the print product the best of all those things.

Then he talks about how they captured a video about a drive, and how they will present that as a "rich experience" in the print magazine (where they can only do text and images... and thus no video).

And then about making the first 'interactive print magazine', giving the example that when they do a survey on their website, they will print the result in the magazine. That's not interactive.

There is no question that the print magazine is better than it was, because they can include information gathered from their digital channels. But the fact still remains that you cannot do any of these things in print. You have to do it in the digital world.

So what they are doing is that they are trying to make us believe that the many limitations of print is actually a good thing. When, if they turned to digital only, they could do all of that and bring the videos, surveys and many other things directly with the content ... in an active and connected format.

I understand why HOT ROD Magazine still focuses on print. For their target market, print is a very important format and will likely remain so for longer than most other magazines. But you should never protect the old at the expense of the new.

Digital is not a 'brand extension'. It's the future. Instead of trying to convince people that the limitations of the old print world is actually the "best of all those things" (which it clearly isn't), HOT ROD Magazine should say:

We are going to make our print magazine the best of what it can be. We are going to make it even more relevant by including many of the features we have from our other channels. But if you get our app or use our website, you get the best of both worlds. You get the best content, the most exciting stories, amazing pictures + videos, audio, radio, interactive guides, surveys, and you can follow us where you like, be a part of the experience, discuss topics with our team, see live updates from our road trips, and much more. HOT ROD Magazine is not about the format. It's about giving you the best stories, the best moments, and make you part of the best HOT ROD community.

It's the same for the Guardian and Newsweek. It's not about the format. It's not about print versus digital. Print is going to disappear because it's more expensive, slower, inconvenient, and very limited. But you were never in the business of selling print in the first place. That just happened to be the best package you could use back in the disconnected world.

Now we live in the connected world. So ask yourself:

What is the best product than I can make today?

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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