Death of Print?

At the International Newsroom Summit in London this week, NYTimes publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., made waves when he suggested that “We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD.”

Don’t panic, my fellow “coastal liberals,” he meant physical printing, not going out of business.

IStock_000005888672XSmallWill we see the death of print publications?  As an avid user of smartphones and tablet computers, I can certainly see the attraction as a consumer: instant access to the most up-to-date, multimedia news content, from any device, anywhere.

The trends are hard to deny.  The world’s population is even more wild about the mobile Internet than U.S. consumers.  According to a 2009 report by Netpop, 18M Americans surf the mobile web, compared to a whopping 100M users in China — who certainly still lag the U.S. in terms of consumer spending, especially on luxury items: the Chinese citizenry increasingly view accessing the mobile web a “must-have.”

So, yea, it’s easy to think that the physical newspaper will eventually fade away.  Would this be a bad thing?

As an old-timer, I’d surely miss the smudge of newsprint on my fingertips, and the physical “smell” of the news.  I’d miss the authoritative crack of folding the paper from one section to another. 

“Utter lack of SEO value” notwithstanding, the tangible newspaper would be a sad thing to lose in the march of progress.

IStock_000006164355XSmallBut … think of the production costs involved!  The care required for the increasingly antiquated machinery.  The labor unions.  The truck drivers and other production & delivery staff.  The vast number of trees required to create a document that’s been plunging in popularity amongst consumers, and which is useless (except to your parakeet) within 24 hours.  We are talking jillions of dollars. 

While it would truly be a shame to view the death of print in our lifetimes (especially for those blue-collar workers who bust their asses to get the newspaper out the door), imagine if those funds could be spent on content production?  On making the news hyperlocal, personal?  On multimedia elements that draw the reader into stories, with a richness that pure text can never quite achieve?

The death of print?  Eventually, yea.  And once you push past the sentimentality, that’s gonna be a good thing.

Posted on: September 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm By Todd Defren
9 Responses to “Death of Print?”


  • Hard to say if print will die. I agree with Josh that printed material has a certain aesthetic to it, and holds value for the date in which it was printed. I also think it will be hard to lose print based on the law, where physical evidence seems to still hold sway in most court rooms, even though I have heard of a lot of digital evidence being used in courts.

  • Renee Malove says:

    I have a feeling the countdown to the death of the printed news started the minute we started making digital technology free; however, with more companies charging for access to archives and past digital media I think that trend may slow down more than you think. If you’re looking into the long-term (as in, the next two or three generations) it’s entirely possible we’ll shift completely from printed to digital media, but there are enough people out there that prefer print to keep it going for a while longer. (I’m talking about books here as well.) I also have a feeling that as we learn more about the health effects of spending all day with our noses pressed to a computer, we’re going to see more value in printed media than we may right now.

  • I have to say, I am an avid reader of electronic content, not much of printed one.
    What I notice though, despite our newfound electronic media consumption habits, we still strive to give them a printed feeling, and I think about services like or apps like Flipboard for the iPad.
    Isn’t that ironic? Perhaps we’re just trying to ease the transition that, we know, is happening very fast all around us.

  • Todd, I agree it’s a good thing – And the migration to mobile news is accelerating as smartphone sales increase.

    According to Pew Research, 1 in 3 cell phone owners get news on their mobile devices (over 80 million Americans).

    Thought you might like the full study:


  • Jen says:

    One thing I think is often overlooked is the future cost of developing technology for digital media (beyond devices, data warehouses and energy to run them – the social implications as well).

    While we may be saving jillions on more antiquated methods of sharing information, what is the real cost of future digital content? I’m all for and embrace digital media, but when you see hundreds of square miles covered with expired cellphones it makes me wonder if this is the best move for us as a people sharing the resources of the earth (not to get all crunchy).

    I have a feeling most the funds would be allocated to developing new technologies, more so than content. After all, it seems like we’re a tech obsessed population interested in getting more and more info faster than we can meaningfully digest it.

    Love your work and thanks for this post!

    Jen Simckowitz

    • Todd Defren says:

      I have a feeling most the funds would be allocated to developing new technologies, more so than content.

      Really? From the NYTimes, etc.? I think they’d stick to their knitting, for the most part.

  • Josh Morgan says:

    I’m not with you on this one Todd. On my wall, I have a framed newspaper from 1893 that includes an article about my great-great grandfather. This article is surrounded by ads and other news of the time. This all provides context that is not possible with digital only. Looking at how bad we are at supporting old technology, find a place to play that videotape or the 8 inch floppy disk, I think its naive to believe that in 130 years people are going to look back at the Twitter feed around an article to see how many times it was retweeted so they can gauge how important that article was at the time.

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