Is Print Media Dead in the 21st Century?

With the emergence of digital media, the relevance of print media have been fiercely debated (Gomez, 2008; Leatherbarrow, 2012). The advocates of digital media supremacy bring to light the idea of the death of print media. In an attempt to persuade the public of the ultimate end of print newspapers, magazines, and books, the advocates present print media as fully outdated, expensive, and impractical (Anderson, 2014). What becomes evident from their pressure on the public is that they have initiated "a zero-sum game – print must die for digital to prevail" (Anderson, 2014, n.p.). This essay is aimed at discussing whether print media are really dead in the 21st century. Drawing on the recent research evidence and authoritative opinions, the essay attempts to generate an in-depth analysis of the vitally important issue.

Gomez (2008) asserts that print media (especially print books) continue to preserve popularity among the reading public because they greatly appreciate how print media look and smell. Drawing the parallels between people's devotion to print media and patriotic feelings, Gomez (2008) poses a reasonable question: "how can books ever be replaced, let alone disappear?" (p.13). However, the author also claims that print media are significantly threatened by the wide spread of digital media and that the sales of print media are declining. Discussing the position of print media in the digital era, Hooper (2012) expresses a view that "reports of the 'death of print' have been greatly exaggerated" (n.p.). To prove his opinion, Hooper (2012) mentions some examples of the increasing interest in print media. For instance, he claims that some sites and online services (e.g. Google, Moshi Monsters, and Net-A-Porter) have recently started to publish print magazines to attract new partners and customers and realise new strategic goals. Hooper (2012) also discusses the case of the famous Berlin magazine 032c. This magazine was created by Joerg Koch to advertise the website. However, the print magazine has acquired so much popularity among readers that the website was transformed into an archival repository. Moreover, as West (2009) specifies, many famous newspapers (e.g. The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, and The Guardian) are still published because "the quality of journalism produced by traditional print media is still well ahead of the combined might of all the bloggers that inhabit cyberspace" (n.p.). In the viewpoint of West (2009), digital media will not replace print media until the quality of digital media is increased. Likewise, Anderson (2014) mentions that even computational and scientific fields heavily rely on print media. For instance, in the medicine field, print journals are considered as crucial and reliable resources widely used by health care professionals. 

Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod (2015) have conducted an interesting research on print media reading in nine European countries. The countries chosen for the research were technologically similar, but culturally different. The acquired evidence has clearly revealed that print media preserve their popularity in the 21st century. About half of the European respondents have acknowledged that they read either print books or print newspapers. However, the findings of Zickuhr and Rainie (2014) and Desilver (2014) have shown a gradual substitution of print books for digital books. Despite these findings, Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod (2015) claim that "this displacement, if actualized, will only be partial" (p.379). Although digital books are less expensive and are more accessible than print books, the tradition of reading print books is too powerful (Liu, 2008). Moreover, in the viewpoint of Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod (2015), readers significantly enjoy design and artistic worth of print books. On the other hand, Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod (2015) acknowledge that print newspapers have more chances for displacement than print books. This is explained by two major factors: 1) print newspapers are less popular among readers than print books and 2) digital media provide readers with a range of new opportunities (e.g. socialisation, an immediate access to national and international news, and co-creation of news) (Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod, 2015). West (2009) acknowledges that some large newspapers will certainly fail to survive in the highly digital world because of the loss of monopoly. 

While the mentioned reasons for displacement can hardly be considered disputable, print media outperform digital media in the depth of media coverage, accuracy of information, and the diversity and quality of the content (West, 2009; Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod, 2015). With regard to the latter aspect, the articles published in print newspapers and magazines are written by professional journalists who do not only produce grammatically correct writing, but also tend to discuss an issue or event from different perspectives, positions, and angles (West, 2009). In addition, Kitch (2009) specifies that people continue to view print media as crucial material objects which help them preserve memories of some events. Adoni and Nossek (2001) also point out that those readers who are unable to develop digital skills certainly prefer print books to digital books. What the research of Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod (2015) has brought into light is that "the majority of Internet users balance their time spent reading different media" (p.381). Actually, the choice of digital or print media depends on readers' needs and purposes of reading (Liu, 2008). For instance, those people who attempt to receive authoritative and detailed information on certain events choose print newspapers or print books, while those people who want to satisfy their psychosocial needs or want to be entertained choose digital media. In view of the fact that digital media and print media endow readers with diverse kinds of experience (Liu, 2008; Hooper, 2012), it is wrong to reject either of the two. This is proved by the survey of trade magazine editors conducted by Leatherbarrow (2012). According to the survey findings, editors strongly believe that their print magazines benefit from online versions and that people of different ages, professions, experiences, and skills prefer different kinds of media. In the viewpoint of one respondent, "My sector has a traditional older, less technically-literate reader base. They spend 12 hours a day in their shops, and want to relax with a magazine they can hold, not in front of a screen" (Leatherbarrow, 2012, n.p.). What is evident from this particular testimony is that print texts and digital texts cannot be differentiated on the premise of their different formats. It is the difference in experience that matters (Catone, 2013).

However, as Richtel and Bosman (2011) acknowledge in their article, reading of print media is widespread not only among the old generation, but also among the young generation. Although parents are obsessed with digital devices and digital media, they attempt to inspire their children's interest in reading print books. According to Richtel and Bosman (2011), parents hold the view that the experience of reading print books is unique and contributes much to the overall development of their children. This unique experience is explained by the fact that children establish emotional ties with print books (something which cannot be achieved with digital books). Through these emotional ties, they evoke all five senses and acquire different skills. In addition to children and old people without appropriate digital skills, researchers and scholars also contribute much to the survival of print media. As Berger (2006) specifies, academic authors prefer print publications to digital publications. Print books can be sold, distributed among friends, relatives, colleagues, and students, and used for citations. In the process of writing an academic paper, scholars and students tend to heavily rely on print books because "online resources do not guarantee any longevity for citation as books and analog journals do" (Berger, 2006, p.152). This assertion is consistent with the findings of Ramirez (2003) who investigated the reading preferences of students from the National University of Mexico and found that 78 percent of students read and better understand print media and materials, while only 18 percent preferred reading of digital materials. Even when students read a digital text, they cannot read it for more than two hours (Ramirez, 2003). According to Liu (2008), students tend to choose print media when a text or book is rather lengthy, when they need to profoundly investigate a specific issue or area, and when they need to take notes.

What should be understood is that those who insist on the death of print media speak from the position of significant technological changes, fully disregarding social aspects of print media reading. Griswold, Lenaghan, and Naffziger (2011) express the view that digital media "are not bringing about the death of reading, or a postprint age, or the disappearance of the book in ink-on-dead-trees form, but are changing the nature and type of reading experiences available" (p.31). Following this line of argument, it becomes evident that modern readers do not have to dismiss print media for the sake of digital media. Instead, they have an opportunity to choose among different types of media. Moreover, by bringing to light the debate about the death of print media and by comparing print media to digital media, authors, researchers, and scholars unintentionally revive interest in print media (Sutherland and Deegan, 2012). The debate has a great impact on people's minds and makes them reconsider their attitudes to the issue of print media. When in 1999 the British Library microfilmed and then eradicated American newspapers after 1850, this decision was negatively perceived by both English and international public (Chartier, 2004). As a result of this negative perception, American and English libraries were forced to stop destroying print newspapers and magazines. This particular example proves that people are not ready to easily reject print media, even though they widely read digital media. In the process of reading print and digital versions of the same text, readers use different methods and strategies of reading. Catone (2013) compares reading of digital media to watching a film version of a live performance. Those who understand the beauty and value of a print book certainly continue to invest in books to enrich their collection (Agresta, 2012).

The recent survey of English and American readers conducted by Publishing Technology (2015) has demonstrated that readers between 18 and 34 years understand and highly appreciate the value of print books. According to the acquired evidence, 79 percent of American respondents and 64 percent of English respondents read print books last year. The research has also found that the majority of English and American readers tended to buy their print books in bookstores instead of using Internet stores (e.g. Amazon). The findings of this survey and the above mentioned studies provide conclusive evidence that print media are still alive. Moreover, in the viewpoint of Josefowicz (2009), the myth about the death of print media is created by information junkies who use digital media and reject print media because they want to receive news in a fast way. However, Josefowicz (2009) claims that information junkies constitute a minor group of people. On the other hand, their voices are so loud that it may seem that the view of the death of print media is shared by the majority. In contrast to the research findings discussed in this essay, the opinions expressed by information junkies and digital media lovers are based on anecdotal evidence. Unquestionably, such evidence can hardly be considered trustworthy and reliable. As Josefowicz (2009) rightfully asserts, "the 'end of print' is a meme that has gained ascendancy in an environment of disruptive change in the communication ecology" (n.p.).       

As the essay has clearly shown, print media are not dead in the 21st century. Despite the increase in reading digital media, the findings of the recent studies prove that people continue to read print newspapers, magazines, and books. In view of these findings, it is more appropriate to speak not about the death of print media, but about "the evolution of a new functional division of labour among print media and their digital equivalents" (Nossek, Adoni, and Nimrod, 2015, p.381). To satisfy their diverse needs, readers may successfully combine reading of print media and reading of digital media. The views of authors and critics mentioned in this essay reveal "the main reasons why printed publications are destined to survive" (West, 2009, n.p.).


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