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Print media need evolution, not a coffin

Date: 2/11/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Please indulge me, folks a moment for a little shoptalk. Since you're reading this newspaper, I'm assuming you're interested in local news and the health of the local media.

My friend Tom Devine whom many consider to be the father of the Western Massachusetts blogging movement (he said he is demanding a paternity test) has a very interesting post at

Tom noted the announced demise of the print edition of The Local Buzz, the monthly entertainment and opinion publication published by The Republican's sister company. The paper will be going to a Web edition, which Tom interprets as another nail in the coffin of traditional media.

Tom wrote, "The era of printed publications is over. All newspapers, not just Local Buzz but the New York Times, the Washington Post, all the magazines national and regional, everything, everywhere that is presently distributed by the printed page is going to follow Local Buzz into cyberspace or they are going out of business in less than ten years. There will be no exceptions. There is no third way. All that remains is the deathwatch.

"The old dying media system was extremely elitist. In order to communicate to a mass audience in the pre-internet days you had to have access to expensive technology. You had to have a printing press, or a broadcasting tower, and all the technical know-how, licenses and unionized employees that implied. That meant 99% of the public could not print an article or go on television or on the radio, making those who did have such access, namely the reporters and writers who worked for the people who owned the printing presses and broadcast towers, a power so enormous it was almost invisible."

I understand where Tom is coming from and I embrace much of what he is saying, although I guess I'm part of the elitist system and my thoughts may be tainted. The Web is a powerful communications technology and is clearly the wave of the future. Hey, I blog. This newspaper has a Web site. I'm no Luddite.

Print is not dead, however. As long as the cost of producing magazines, books and newspapers in the traditional hard copy way is profitable they will continue.

And an affordable Web-based portable device that allows for the easy reading of newspapers, books and magazines is also necessary in order for the masses to go electronic is also necessary.

Perhaps I will see that revolution within my lifetime; at best I've another 25 years, more or less.

Before we start burying traditional publishing let's consider some facts:

The Association of American Publishers released its annual estimate of total book sales in the United States for 2007 last May. The report, which uses data from the Bureau of the Census as well as sales data from 81 publishers inclusive of all major book publishing media market holders, estimates that U.S. publishers had net sales of $24.2 billion in 2006 with growth in adult and juvenile books growing 2.9 percent to $8.3 billion, a compound growth rate of 3.7 percent per year since 2002.

An independent study from the Magazine Publisher of America showed the considerable significance magazines play in conveying advertising messages.

In other words, print works.

What is affecting most newspapers is a decline in advertising based on the economic climate of an area and the number of national chain stores, which do not advertise in local media. The other factor is the anticipation of a certain level of profit, which many observers believe the corporations that own big newspapers have set at unreasonably high levels.

The problem with the Web is trying to find a formula in which writers and artists get paid for creating content (one prominent local site depends on recruiting bloggers to work for free) and advertisers get real results so they are willing to pay enough that a site can actually turn a profit.

At this point the issue is far less about the technology and far more the business.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.