Is Print Really Dead?

In the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, character Egon Spengler is asked whether he enjoys reading books, to which he responds, “Print is dead.” Perhaps that was an understandable utterance at the time, echoing the sentiment that the growth of personal computers, and the meteoric rise of interest in an imagined consumer “electronic superhighway,” would kill print. Domain names were first introduced in November 1983, and “cyberspace” was coined in 1984 with the Macintosh computer unveiled in January of that year.

More than 25 years later, is print dead? Forbes weighed in on the question of print’s premature funeral (June 28, 2012) and replied, “Not so fast.” 

Instead of pending extinction, are we experiencing a Darwinian evolution of the print species? I’m not putting lipstick on a pig when I report that as a collective, publishers still believe print is here to stay, but its role is changing from a “be all/end all” form of media to establishing its new place as part of a media mix – with the strongest emphasis on “content provider.” 

It’s hard, being a magazine publisher, to hear rumors that magazines and newspapers are going the way of VHS tapes, LP records, landline phones, video rental stores, CDs, floppy discs, SLR cameras, instant cameras, TV antennas, typewriters, copy machines, dot matrix printers, cassette tapes, fold-out paper maps, arcades, ice companies, and buggy whips. It’s hard because we are still creating product that we know is more needed than ever in the marketplace.

“The Web is the friend of print, not its killer,” asserted John Griffin, president of the National Geographic Society’s magazine group during a debate with blogger Jeff Jarvis of “The wild, wild west of the Internet will evolve to more consolidation of the biggest brands at the top and an infinite number of tiny fragments at the bottom. The public will have neither the time nor interest to consider all of the options available to them – so the role of editor, both human and electronic, will increase in importance as people look for experts to help sift, validate, and organize the infinite sources of content. In any case, the need for information, entertainment, and motivation will be as strong as ever.”

This past month, IB convened a special roundtable and borrowed from the serious “Is God Dead?” cover featured on the April 8, 1966 edition of TIME magazine to foster a discussion with area print professionals. We appreciated their candor, predictions, and insights. 

As Mark Twain so eloquently put it, “The reports of [our] death have been greatly exaggerated.”

And a final thought … If print is dead, why quote it online every second of every minute of every hour of every day? 

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