Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is There Life After Print? Yeah, Maybe at a Community College

My fellow printing geeks keep telling me that print isn’t dead, but it sure is looking pretty sick at times.

Here are some of the recent news items that make a “print guy” in the magazine industry feel like a marked man:

Many so-called leaders of the publishing industry have gone ga-ga over the Apple Newsstand, with some recent excitement about the top 100 sellers racking up sales of a whopping $70,000 every day. The top 100 U.S. and Canadian magazine titles on the real newsstand (the ink-on-paper one that's been left for dead) generate $70,000 in sales about once every 19 minutes.

And never mind that most of the Apple Newsstand money is coming from subscriptions, which in the print world are bringing in even more money than single-copy sales.

Seventy Gs a day is chump change for Apple, a rounding error on its bottom line. Print copies of Steve Jobs’ biography are probably selling better. Apple's Newsstand has brought a smidgen of order to the chaos of the App Store, but it's way too early to call it successful.

Cart before the horse
Joining the Apple Newsstand on the recent "2012 Folio 40" list of magazine industry innovators is a Rodale executive chosen because of his work on repositioning the company’s digital magazine editions. Sounds impressive, but this quote kills me:

“We’ll start monetizing soon.” Rodale is a pretty innovative publisher (innovative publisher: Is that an oxymoron?), so the projects’ prospects are pretty good. But shouldn’t a product actually start making money before we hoist the “Mission Accomplished” banner?

What is this, a hobby or a business? I'd say the real hero at Rodale is the person or people who built the "Eat This Not That!" empire. But I suppose that's too print-oriented to be hip.

Dying canary
Newspapers have been the fastest shrinking industry in the U.S. during the past five years, according to a LinkedIn analysis.

No surprise there. Even this old print dinosaur, who not long ago didn’t know his RSS from a hole in the ground, is constantly amazed at how U.S. newspapers don’t “get” the web and aren’t doing enough to remake their bread-and-butter subscription products.

But a lot of people would say the same thing about my industry. Are newspapers our canary in the coal mine?

Is this is good news or bad?

An article in the latest Best Graduate Schools annual bookazine profiles two mid-life career changers who were laid off from their previous jobs – a 25-year veteran of International Paper’s Franklin, VA paper mill and a 22-year circulation employee of the San Francisco Chronicle. Both opted for community college, rather than grad school, to enter more promising careers, one in healthcare radiography and the other as a cook.

“When a career path deadends or the thrill just burns out, a class or two at a community college can inspire, relatively cheaply, a whole new direction,” advises the U.S. News and World Report publication.

It’s no comfort being associated with a line of work that’s become a poster child for dead-end careers. But it’s encouraging to hear that some burned-out, middle-aged ink-on-paper dinosaurs have found ways to avoid career extinction.

Hmm, I wonder how I’d be as a nurse.

Related articles:
  • 34 Tricks Print Mags Can Do That Apps Can’t: My recent article for Publishing Executive, when I was in a more optimistic mood about printed magazines.
  • Print Is Dead? Not For This Growing Publication Niche: If I lost you with that reference to "bookazine" (AKA "book-a-zine"), this article will explain how this type of printed magazine is defying the decline of the newsstand system.
  • App-oplexy: Magazines on the iPad: Explores the difference between "Lick of the Day" and "Sex Position of the Day". 
  • 12 Telltale Signs That You Are A Printing Geek: Evidence that I'm not always grumpy about being a print geek.
  • Not Dead Yet: If you want an antidote to my print-is-dead pessimism, check out this little video that Noelle Skodzinski used to open the recent Publishing Business Conference with a laugh. Alas, Noelle, who showed us all how to extend a magazine brand into multiple media without neglecting the actual magazine, has since left her post as editor of Publishing Executive and Book Business.


Tom, a print refugee said...

Too Funny . . . and this comes from a 25 plus year veteran of print media!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hello Dead Tree Edition:
I am transitioning from one print company to another. I sent all my current clients an email letting them know I was leaving my company, but I didn't say where I was going.

I figured I'd follow up later with
that information.

You'd be surprised at how many people thought I was getting out of the printing trade all together or "retiring."

I was stunned at this response.

After reading your Dead Tree Edition...not so much!

Thanks for your comments.

Signed..."I'm not going to Community College!"

Warren said...

Ah, just when you think we've had enough bad news to deal with, we can always count on D. Eadward for a refreshing post.

raj said...

Community college may be the answer for some of us ink on paper veteans of industry, but look instead at a course on software development or computer science related and think 3d printer to print parts, and print on demand. Your manufacturing skills in the print industry are completely transferable to other industries to the point that the state of Maryland issues grants (like Pell grants) for displaced employees from the print industry to study something new and in demand. I would also think manufactured promotional products custom made are a natural fit, or bookstores that can print ebook titles on demand are also opportunities for a rebirth/resurgence.

BoSacks said...

Dear Deaddy:

I think we can all agree that there have been absolute and fundamental shifts in communication patterns and processes. I include the obvious communication patterns between people and people, between people and businesses, and between businesses and businesses. These have all been forever altered. I would also add this is historically not new and has been going on since the first capitalistic transaction. Change in our DNA both biologically and in our businesses is an on-going process.

I actually despise all the self-flagellation that the industry insists on repeating with the inane metaphor that print is dead. This rumor comes mostly from disenfranchised ink-on-paper publishers and reporters. They mistake a change in dominance for death. Loss of dominance is not equivalent to death—it just feels that way.

There are billions being made every day in print. There will be billions made in print for the foreseeable future. There are some single print titles that have revenue over a billions dollars (People).

The only thing that has changed is that there is more competition for both advertising and readers than ever before. At the end of the day, if you supply what the advertiser or the reader actually wants, you make money and have a job and a career. If you can’t supply what the reader or the advertiser wants, you languish and say that print is dead. That statement is just not true; it is wrong and it is plain ridiculous.

There may came a time, and it might be sooner than some expect, that the web and the digital process makes more revenue than print, but that exchange on the pyramid of success does not mean death. It just means sharing the revenue pie with worthy others.


Anonymous said...

I agree with BoSacks above. Also, there is nothing wrong with Community College! No matter what path someone chooses - grad school, comm. college, etc - that is the right choice for them and their future plans.