The print industry has been subjected to significant turmoil over the course of the past decade or so due to the meteoric rise of digital alternatives seeking to displace traditional paper products. A number of voices in the media and in the tech sector have been forecasting the supposedly inevitable demise of print as a viable medium, but instead of crumbling in the face of adversity, the industry has adapted to meet the constantly changing demands of its clientele.
Newspapers and other publications were hit particularly hard by the global economic recession, and many began to fold or switch to exclusively digital formats as the result of a panicked overreaction. Now that the dust has settled and the economy has rebounded from the depths of the financial crisis, however, newspapers are no longer being overlooked. Many news junkies have certainly become digital converts in the meantime, but as consumers have more spending money these days, print news has seen somewhat of a modest revival.
A big part of this return to relevance, ironically, has been the adoption of various technologies that improve reader experiences.
Technology is driving print's evolution
Caroline Little, who serves as president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, wrote in a column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch that news organizations are using data analytics and new tech developments to spur growth within the print news sector. Increased access to consumer-related data allow newspapers to more strategically develop products and content, Little said, which has opened new opportunities for growth in diverse areas.
For example, Little noted the increased investment in social media that many news outlets are making. Stories develop rapidly, and consumers want to be constantly updated on emerging details, so platforms like Twitter are critically important to developing a comprehensive media strategy. However, this practice does not render the print edition irrelevant – rather, it creates a new niche for the physical copy.
Little asserted that, instead of limiting itself to hard news reports, the newspaper industry has sought to diversify its offerings. Newspaper reading has evolved into a far more leisurely activity than it used to be, and publishers have embraced this idea, offering long-form journalism and lifestyle pieces to target the interests of the casual reader. Little noted the Philadelphia Inquirer's "Live, Life, Love," which focuses on entertainment and the arts, as an example of this new development. In addition, she pointed to the Chicago Tribune's recent initiative to expand its editorial content, reflecting the growing interest among locals in opinionated commentary.
While technology has played a huge role in the modernization of the print industry, the inverse can be said, as well – print's influence can be seen all over the Web.
Online content is often designed to reflect print layouts
Poynter contributor Kristen Hare reported on The Washington Post's recent revamp of its website layout. The most striking detail of the new design, she said, is its obvious resemblance to the print format – an effect that was intentional, according to the Post's director of digital products and design, Joey Marburger. He told Hare that the upgraded layout was inspired by the front page of the print edition of the newspaper, due to its simplicity and ability to emphasize major stories in comparison to items of lesser importance.
Hare attested that the previous home page design was rigid and somewhat overwhelming due to the vast amount of content that could be accessed on it at any given time. The Post's intent was to make its layout responsive and user-friendly, so they naturally turned to the traditional medium for an example.
Marburger confirmed this to be the case: "The print edition has had hundreds of years of evolution for design, so we should definitely look to that for inspiration," he told Hare.
Print's reputation for legitimacy has strengthened its role
The Times and Democrat referenced comments made by Denise Turner, of London-based Newsworks, which served to explain print's continued relevance in the digital age. Turner argued that, in a news market that has been oversaturated with illegitimate sources, print has proven to be a reputable medium for consumers. Articles are rarely – read: never – published in a physical newspaper unless the editorial staff is positive about the details, while online sources tweet and post false information constantly in an attempt to break a story first. Turner also asserted that print news gives a more comprehensive and satisfying version of a story, as articles are published with finality, as opposed to Internet pieces that can be updated after being posted.
The print industry is starkly different than it was as recently as 10 years ago, but that does not necessarily mean that it is going to disintegrate before our eyes. Rather, successful companies have evolved to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers, and the newspaper industry is a prime example of how printers can take advantage of new technology and expanded access to data.