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Summary:

For years, even many of us in the online realm had countered digital prophesies of “the death of print” with cautious reservation.

But now…

For years, even many of us in the online realm had countered digital prophesies of “the death of print” with cautious reservation.

But now – as newsprint costs rise, digital operations grow their importance to publishers and driving delivery trucks around the place begins to seem anachronistic – printing on paper may increasingly look like just another cost that, soon, could be removed from the balance sheet.

The Financial Times is amongst those seriously preparing to switch off printing presses, parent group Pearson’s director of global content standards Madi Solomon told me during a panel at the E-Publishing Innovation Forum in London on Tuesday…

“There’s nothing like a financial crisis to keep a newspaper afloat. They couldn’t be happier because that has elongated what they like to consider their ‘sunset’, the sunset of print.

“They’re investing a lot in their online presence. Yes, they do see the end of print. That pink broadsheet has such fond memories for so many people that I don’t think they’ll completely stop printing, but they will certainly pull back – in fact, they’re already pulling back.” There is tactical retreat from printing in certain geographies.

Solomon says the FT is committing to “less print” and says the FT sees a five-year trajectory for having exited print in substantial part. “They’re not saying that, by five years, they’ll completely stop it, but they do see that the sunset is going to be in about five years for them.”

Pearson (NYSE: PSO) is “scrambling” to service a large-scale switching from print to digital, Solomon said, especially in its core education segment, where states like California and Singapore have committed to transition education away from text books, she said.

Five years? Here’s the calendar some other publishers are betting on…

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has always said the title’s current print factory will be its last ever; he reckoned it would run for 20 years from its 2005 inception. “I think that might be telescoping quite dramatically now,” he said last week.

– London’s Times editor John Witherow agrees his print plant, built in 2008, will be the last: “They were supposed to last 30 or 40 years. Things are speeding up now.” He anticipates a print withdrawal in more “considerable time”.

– The Seattle Post Intelligencer, following eight years of losses, already abandoned printing its newspaper in March 2009, and instead now operates a radically slimmed-down website alone.

– It was joined by the Christian Science Monitor, which, after chronic circulation decline, dropped its print edition to publish online only one month later

– “If cheap, flexible screen technology really takes off, then I do think print’s years are numbered,” B2B publisher Incisive Media’s online commercial head Jon Bentley told the E-Publishing Innovation Forum event…

– Though Nature.com associate director Daniel Pollock said “rumours of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated” and reckoned the science journal will be printing for “a generation or two to come” – “It will shift from the majority medium to one of several minority media.”

» Update: Pearson now denies the strategy Solomon referred to – see our follow-up.

So, what date is your diary showing for paper’s last rites… ?

  1. Time Travel Writer Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    The DGM 430 is an industry proven workhorse. This two ink form, two oscillator design is compatible with over 35,000 units in use worldwide today. Rated at up to 40,000 impressions per hour.

    They are on a roll. More presses are being built, so it never ends. Good luck stopping all the presses. Just shut 35,000 units down and you have 100 other problems.

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  2. Time Travel Writer is kidding him/her self. Paper print is going digital faster than the way that celluloid film was replaced by digtal. No commercial cinema uses film projectors, try buying a traditional camera, roll of film or vdeo cassette VCR – it’s all digital. Publishers will ditch paper and ink sooner rather than later. Is it time to sell your stock in printing machinery perhaps? (unless they adapt like Kodak did).
    Patrick King
    (Atypon Systems Inc.)

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  3. So if I want to read a newspaper or a magazine, I’m going to have to pay £400 for an iPad? Forget it…

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    1. Staci D. Kramer Thursday, June 3, 2010

      @Graham by the time this comes to pass — and I’m not in the 5-year
      camp by any stretch — prices will be much lower for 7″-plus screen
      devices to look at media. They may even be subsidized or leased as
      part of a subscription.

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  4. They’re just figuring this out?
    http://yieldpig.blogspot.com/

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  5. davidpilcher71 Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    It’s hard to know the future. Many people in the past have tried to predict it and were wrong. Did radio go away when TV showed up? Did people stop going to the movies when you have big screens at home with DVR’s and Blu-ray players? No. But does the market change? Yes – the only constant is change. I get tired of those doomsayers who predict prints demise. Remember – people like working in tangible realities. Videogames won’t replace real sports, online dating virtually won’t replace real dating, and online media won’t replace tangible print media.

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  6. Time Travel Writer Wednesday, May 26, 2010

    “But the first reader prefers as naturally the symbol of a mother and child, or a gardener and his bulb, or a jeweler polishing a gem.” Essays. Printing is still significant and we shall both be gainers. How is the plastic digital money working for you? It’s all digital, life itself is a bubble and estates get wasted. The world is in a state of bankruptcy. It owes more than it can pay and ought to be sold. Somebody print up a bill of sale.

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  7. As long as the digital divide remains print isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps the content will change greatly as the former key audience flees to online media.

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  8. Don’t kid yourself: large-scale industrial printing will be heavily reduced but we’ll print instead a lot more at home at our own expense. Same as for tickets, online bills etc. Tree roots dig into to the ground. And where will the printing presses go? Not to machine heaven but to India where every month (regional) newspapers and magazines start circulation.

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  9. Hey, remember the myth of the “paperless office” ? Now we have more paper usage than in the pre-PC days. I agree with Graham, maybe smaller circulations, but the very handy newspaper, and magazines, will be around for a long time yet. See more at http://contentetc.wordpress.com/category/blogging/

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  10. Being the bottom feeder in this industry…35 years in Distribution… I have seen many trends come and go, People still want, and will always want tangible media in their hands, be it print or digital, the fact that the same information is available at no charge to the consumer, is the industry problem. All you people here have this to think about, if you are in the publishing industry, and you produce a product, are you going to just give it away?….If so, please forward it to me, I will glady distribute it and charge my consumer for your work. I think that paints a clear picture of what happened to our industry. Publishers…..Charge for your content, be it digital or print, and stop trashing your own industry, yes there will be decline in numbers, and as the saying goes the strong will survive, but stop driving nails into our coffins and we will survive this. Print will be around for many years to come, and I for one, will enjoy both. Tom Rowlen Publishers Distribution Chicago

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