Newspapers belong in bins not bookshelves

The disposable medium
The disposable medium - Picture by Pete Ashton via Flickr

I was on the train back from London last week and found myself sat behind a guy with a huge pile of newspapers. For the duration of the trip from London to Manchester he systematically went through the papers tearing out article and leaving a shredded mess behind him when he got off. By a quick reckoning he had left behind about 6 pounds worth of newspaper.

I was pondering this as I read a nice post over at Jo Geary’s blog where she ponders the ‘value’ of print. In, what she calls, Quick, incoherent thought #4: the power of print (I like the number thing, makes it sound like a series of artworks)she questions the value of print in world where digital is cheaper. Does digital mean that people value print less?

Well, the people who queued outside The Washington Post for their special edition on Obama’s victory would tell you there was a value to print and it has been argued that this is proof that newspaper is still the format of choice for important events. “People didn’t print out the news on their computers”, goes the argument.

In fact Jo argues that in some cases the content is so valuable that it could go in a hard back book.

I have some sympathy with that view (despite my link bait title), the transient nature of the web is often its least appealing characteristics. But I think there is one key factor that makes newspapers, rather than books, a valuable platform and one that should thrive and it isn’t the keepsake value.

Would you bin a kindle?

For me the man on the train proved to me that the compelling feature of newspaper as a medium is that we are prepared to throw it away. Bin it, shred it, leave it on the bus. Whatever we do we are happy to spend money on it and then leave it.

That’s why I think Jo’s book idea is a good one. But it’s also why I think that the newspaper industry excitement (or maybe that should be panic driven hope) for the development of e-readers and digital paper is so, so wrong. I have actually heard newspaper managers talk about how things will be ‘all right’ once digital ink is sorted.

Would you buy this and bin it?
Would you buy this and bin it?

Allowing people to download the daily newspaper to an e-reader or flexible screen may feel like it gives the industry back some of the monopoly on the distribution platform it thinks it needs to survive. But in reality it flies in the face of the way we consume and discard our daily news fix.

Maybe that’s just me. But I’m sure the man on the train would rather have his pile of paper.

Newspaper photo by Pete Ashton from Flickr

7 thoughts on “Newspapers belong in bins not bookshelves”

  1. ereaders are going to play a significant role soon. Many players are already working this out and we may find soon profitable and reasonable models with them.
    I think different companies in media should join to develop this together.

    best regards,

    Luis

  2. Luis
    I agree they will play a role but in the context of the newspaper industry it seems like the motivation for investing in them is just a way to ignore the bigger challenges (and opportunities ) of proper multi platform.

    In the past we have criticized papers who just shovel content on to the web. With e-readers we risk the reverse happening and that will be just as bad.

  3. The thing about newspapers is that they do look good framed up somewhere in a study if you've saved a killer front page, since digital content looks slightly different wherever it turns up (depending on browser etc), it's harder to make that sort of impact.

  4. I agree James. That's why I think it's a mistake to rule out print or try and replace it with e-readers. The industry just has to get its collective head round the fact that print will not die but it may not be their primary output platform

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