Observing the world at the moment is like watching a multi-car motorway pile up. It all seems to happen so slowly – but it’s inevitable that when the brakes are applied by some and directions changed by others that a big crash will happen.
My background is in print media and photography. I’ve written in the “project and tales” section of the site about some of my experiences at the cutting edge of digital photography in the early 90s. Less than 20 years on, I’ve just witnessed the inevitable crash of a big juggernaut as Kodak filed for bankruptcy.
Everyone could see it coming. No matter how brakes were applied, a new course steered or the attempts to accelerate away from danger – it crashed.
Much discussion has been had about the demise of newspapers. The focus has been on the outdated business models – and how only on-line paywalls can hope to sustain excellent journalism. The crashes have already started to occur in the US regional newspapers – and was well illustrated in the excellent docufilm – “Page One – Inside The New York Times”. In the UK, there has yet to be a major crash. Although many would connect the closure of the News of the World as much with economics as Murdoch’s empire trying to distance itself from phone hacking.
The bigger crash I can see is the inevitable demise of the whole print industry. It’s a supertanker powering towards a reef. If I’d have said this 5 years ago, you would have thought I was mad. But now, it seems to add up. Will the printing presses be running in 10 years time? I don’t think so – except as a “side show” like black and white photography darkrooms.
I used one of the first digital cameras in 1994 at the Lillehammer Olympics. I was part of a select few to use these prototype models at the games. At that Olympics, professional photographers alone shot 700,000 rolls of film. The images were carefully selected – and a number of them used in newspapers, magazines and books. In the 18 years since that first breakthrough, more pictures are used because of so many digital platforms being available. There will be 5-20 pictures shown on newspaper websites to back up the 1-2 pictures used in print. No mainstream photography is created using film – and printing is limited to when a picture needs framing at home. I’ve seen it happen in one great industry – and the printing presses invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century are next on the crash list.
I am typing this sitting on a train heading through Switzerland. Around me, I cannot see a newspaper – but plenty of people tapping and viewing content on iPhones and Androids. I’ve just been through the airport – and Kindles/iPads outnumbered book readers (and it’s early days for these reading devices). I still love reading a book in print. I’ll never stop loving it (much like the desire to process a film, put the negative in the enlarger and create a print through trays of chemicals). All that nostalgia will pass though, and I am sure the screen will win.
There is no doubt that Steve Jobs led the revolution on devices to consume content. However, when we look back in history – the real destroyer of Gutenberg’s legacy will be seen as Mark Zuckerberg. He brought hundreds of millions of people from around the world to their screens to engage with friends and consume content on Facebook. Make no mistake, many media companies engage on-line – but Zuckerberg’s Facebook has made screen consumption – at the desk or on the move – mainstream.
I had a brief email exchange with Jon Ferrara of Nimble the other day. He’s quite a visionary. I’d forwarded an article from Chris Brogan saying to get things done it helps to write out 3×5 index cards and put on your desk. Jon’s view was that this was “too old school”. I think he’s right – although I don’t know if I can ever give up scribbling my to-do list and musings in my Moleskin notebook (I have tried many, many to-do list software solutions). Jon’s company, Nimble, is redefining how individuals do business – and it’s on-screen.
Last week, I went to a board meeting at home in Bath. There were nearly 50 pages to print – so I took my iPad with PDFs loaded. It worked well, I “saved a tree” – and got nearer than I’ve ever been to the old ideal of the “paperless office”. I also read that at this year’s meeting of GE’s top executives, presentation materials will be available only via iPads.
I’m sure those of my age and older have heard these arguments before. It happened when television came on the scene. Newspapers were definitely going to die.
It’s different this time. This new wave will not just take out newspapers in their printed format – it will leave in its wake bookshops, magazine stands, printing presses, ink makers and paper suppliers. I am sure Gutenberg would be delighted. His solution was built for no other purpose than to spread “the word”. Gutenberg was the 20th Century’s greatest inventor – this millennium has started with Mark Zuckerberg in pole position. Like it or not (and there are some elements I certainly don’t like) Zuckerberg is spreading the word (and it’s not with ink on paper). There’s a new “Berg” on the block!
Bath Digital Festival is hosting a debate “Digital has killed the print industry and infantilised us in the process” at The Pump Rooms on Monday 19th March at 8pm. Tickets are £8. For more information click here…