There’s a war going on in publishing. We’re past the digital vs. print phase, and we need to consider what is publishing – not the medium which is either digital or print. Its medium isn’t as important as what’s being published is. The medium is dictated by the public, which is dictated by marketers. Right now, marketers are selling iPads a lot better than they’re selling newspapers. Ipso facto the media will disseminate better through a fancy device with a screen than a bunch of orange bags containing folded newspapers piling up on a front porch.
We’re past the fall of print. It will still be around for the foreseeable future, if for nothing else but out of sheer necessity. However, as with anything observed through a Darwinian lens, print outlets will have had to adapt to the changing media ecosystem.
Even for successful print outlets these days, advertising profits aren’t what they once were. For better or ill, most publications are shifting to become some sort of digital publishing company. After all, that’s where the audience is. But what is there beyond converting print to digital? The conversion of print to digital is more than just showing words on a computer screen. For instance, there are countless archives to digitize, lest our history started over in 1994.
In Forbes, Knapp (2011) wrote about his annoyance with online research in television shows. In particular, an episode he was watching showed an investigator searching a newspaper database for archived articles from 1892. Knapp points out in real life, the investigator would have trouble going back to 1992 in most newspaper databases. Furthermore, he notes that most online archives begin, or only go back to 1994. In real life, investigators would have to go to the library.
Thankfully, archivists have been preserving the print editions of magazines and newspapers in a number of ways, from volumes in library stacks, to microfiche. Soon, Knapp’s complaints will be unfounded, as more publications convert from print to digital, and start to include the content of their vast archives. For many publications, the archives will have more content than what’s currently online in digital.
Another upside to converting print archives into digital, is that there are a number of ways this can be introduced to an audience. For instance, access to digital archives can be introduced as a premium feature. Or it can simply be a new part of the digital edition of a newspaper or magazine worth heralding.
All around the world there are efforts by newly-formed digital publishing companies and stalwart publications alike to deliver the non-digitized archives from human history to the digital realm of the Internet.
In Europe, an effort to find and digitize the past to create an online archive and museum is underway. The project, called Europeana, is focused on capturing archives of newspapers, correspondence, pictures and anything else from the past. The project is taking place through some road shows where experts assess whether to digitize items brought to them. In many cases, special care or arrangements must be made, as the age of the items can make them fragile. Another reason digital publishing companies ought to convert print to digital.
In Australia, a countrywide effort of newspaper digitization is underway called Trove. In September of 2013, Trove’s database of digitized archives had over 111 million articles from Australian and New Zealand newspapers adding up to over 11 million pages, going all the way back to 1803.
Digital publishing companies need to be aware of what they’re up against. The beast that killed the print newspaper came in the form of a constant stream of aggregated content that meets a level of “good enough,” according to Learmonth (2012) in Advertising Age. If digital publishing companies are wary of this, they should be able to recover from the wave of the digital age crashing down on them. The aim shouldn’t be to join the ranks of the good-enough aggregators, but to create, maintain and preserve a brand of constant content that’s also well-thought, and far beyond the good-enough level.
Newspaper digitization should be about preserving the important traditions of newspapers and journalists. The Internet created a new landscape in which new outlets rose and old outlets languished. Now that some time has passed, and everything is settling can we begin to see what’s coming next in the world of digital publishing companies.