Print vs. Online


Who does young whippersnapper Online think he is, trying to replace tried and tested veteran Print? Will Online hang Print out to dry? Not so, according to survey that states single copies of newspapers actually increase by as much as 14% after readers visit a newspaper site. Readers also buy more subscriptions to newspapers when they visit the newspaper's site.

Computer technology was supposed to replace paper. But in actuality, every country in the Western world uses more paper today on a per-capita basis than it did 10 years ago. The consumption of uncoated free-sheet paper, for instance-the most common kind of office paper-rose almost 15% in the United States between 1995 and 2000. When it comes to performing certain cognitive tasks, Print has quite a few advantages over Online.

Paper is tangible: we can pick up a document, flip through it, read little bits here and there, and quickly get a sense of it. In a study on reading habits in the workplace, people almost never read a document sequentially, from beginning to end, the way they would read a novel. We can spread out paper and arrange it the way we want, and we can scribble little notes on it without altering the text.

In addition, the vast majority of Americans found out about the Sept. 11 not online, but on television, and that is where they stayed for more information. A UCLA study found that more than half (56.3 percent) of Americans first learned of the attacks by watching television, compared to 0.8 percent who learned the news on the Internet (24.9 percent learned from another person by phone or in person, and 15.5 percent learned from radio). After they first heard about the attacks, almost 80 percent of Americans then again turned to television as their source of information. When asked, "after you learned of the events of Sept. 11, where did you first turn for further information," 79.2 percent said they watched television, 3.5 percent turned to newspapers, and only 3.1 percent Web sites. newspapers. Even in the Information Age, people want to learn what's happening in their community from a trusted, authoritative source.

The newspaper itself could become a condensed version of the Web site, offering readers a few digests of news and sports similar to the middle columns of the Wall Street Journal's front, plus a couple features, analyses and of course, crosswords. They could cut most of the world wire copy and focus on local news.

Yet Online is growing smaller and stronger. Pervasive portable media is slowly becoming the news of choice for many. Soon online newspaper editions will be delivered to devices wirelessly and automatically each day (up to several times a day) instead of relying on the user to fetch news one page at a time. Even the most successful online newspaper, The New York Times, sees the average user stop by only 3.6 days a month. Devices are already out that function not only as electronic news outlets, but also as MP3 players, cell phones, palm pilots, e-books, Walkmans, digital cameras and laptops. Can a black and white piece of paper do all that?

In the near future we could be carrying around electronic paper-a flexible, portable, very lightweight electronic broadsheet in which newspaper, magazine and book editions are updated through radio waves. It will be made of a pliable plastic or rubbery material and embedded with microprocessors and batteries, and will be able to capture handwriting with an attached pen.

It turns out Online will break out of its cocoon and morph into Wireless. A recent report by Jupiter Media Matrix estimated that by 2006 mobile services will have twice the revenues of the Web. The same study predicted last year that the number of U.S. wireless Web users will increase from 4.1 million in 2000 to 96 million in 2005!

Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., forecasts that wireless services will reach 30% of U.S. households by next year. And after surveying more than 10,000 Internet users, the research firm released a report concluding that people with wireless or broadband are much more willing to pay subscription fees than Internet users with dial-up connections.

Sorry Print, but the younger generation isn't reading newspapers at all. One reason is that they're flocking to Web sites like Yahoo, Amazon and Google that allow them to get their specific information needs met rather than generalized, generic stuff about the local teams. "Media content that marries mobility to individualization will satisfy the new breed of information consumer," said news consultant Vin Crosbie.

But Print still has three pages left of hope: 1.Appreciation of good writing, 2.Innovations and 3.History. As news sites buckle down with smaller staffs and leaner budgets as a result of a struggling economy, they're focusing resources on getting the biggest bang for their buck: identifying users' needs and meeting them by delivering breaking news updates, local news and information, useful guides and tools. Many are leaving some of the flashier stuff -- like high-bandwidth, high-resource multimedia, for another day. As Michael O'Donnell, chief executive of Salon Media Group said, "We tried everything, but what we found was that people are more willing to pay for plain old good content and do not want bells and whistles.

Also, it is forcasted that in 20 years, newsprint will evolve into a synthetically enhanced product that will look and feel just like the paper of the previous century. New printing presses will be installed that print more efficiently on this new material. The printing of newspapers will take only 20 percent of actual paper from trees. The rest will be manufactured out of a new-age plastic that is completely recyclable. To ensure the rate of recycling, old newspapers will be picked up from subscribers' homes once a week, bringing the material back to the newspaper's printing plant where the newspapers will be wiped clean and folded for reuse. By cutting out the waste management companies in the recycling process, newspapers will dramatically increase the efficiency of the entire process. After years of electronic reader experiments that were supposed to doom the daily newspaper, subscriptions will increase dramatically with the introduction of this new synthetic "news-plastic."

And the history books tell us that print should be here to stay. The spoken word was supposed to be hindered by the written, written by print, print by radio, radio by television, television by the Internet, and now full circle with the Internet threatening print (phew!). But all past predictions have proven false. New forms of media are only enhanced versions of their predecessors, all types are useful in their own medium, or they wouldn't have been invented in the first place. So don't stay down for the count Print, get up and fight. Your forefathers believe in you!

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