It might seem strange for a company promoting online to caution against claims that digital has killed print when it comes to news, but in the search for tasty and attention-grabbing headlines I do feel the industry overestimates the so-called “death of the newspaper” and the adoption of digital technologies that will potentially replace them.
Whilst digital has major advantages over print in terms of immediacy and depth of content, there are some things that it simply can’t replace in the minds or lives of consumers. We saw a similar story a couple of years ago when it came to the effect of the digital industry on music sales. The predictable “death of the CD” headlines followed and whilst there is little debate that traditional CD sales have been hit hard, the format is by no means extinct.
Nielsen ran a large survey looking at why consumers still planned to buy CDs and reasons included: liking to physically own something (rather than an “abstract” mp3 file), having a physical collection that included the artwork, and being easier to port the music to other areas. For the majority, is there anything as simple as just grabbing a CD from the living room and taking it with you into the car? The industry has always had a tendency to over-estimate people’s technological familiarity and competency.
Of course, CDs are a different media from newspapers, but the themes of physicality, practicality, familiarity, and convenience for the masses are consistent themes. Digital can’t replace the traditional walk to get the morning papers, reading the Sunday papers in bed, or an impulse purchase of a newspaper for a train journey – not everyone has the desire or the access to a portable electronic device at every moment of the day.
Whether it’s habit, touch and feel, familiarity, techno-illiteracy or convenience, a significant chunk of the population will still require a physical version to hold in their hands.