Is dating newsprint's demise foolish? Perhaps, but the end seems to be fast approaching a new study predicts.
Most print newspapers in the United States will be gone in five years according to a new academic study.
The report, Is America at a digital turning point?, is due to be released next month by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg centre for the digital future.
But the centre’s director, Jeffrey Cole, has released its highlights, which are based on 10 years of studies. He says:
“Circulation of print newspapers continues to plummet, and we believe that the only print newspapers that will survive will be at the extremes of the medium – the largest and the smallest.”
He argues that only four major American dailies will continue in print form: the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. At the other extreme, local weekly newspapers may still survive.
Cole says: “The impending death of the American print newspaper continues to raise many questions.
Will media organisations survive and thrive when they move exclusively to online availability? How will the changing delivery of content affect the quality and depth of journalism?”
Those are questions we’ve been asking for several years, and now ask ourselves on a daily basis.
As for the forecast itself, it is foolish to put a date on a process (even though I agree with Cole that newsprint death is inevitable).
I note that he has already run into criticism for doing so (see comments by John Robinson and by Frank Denton), not least because while publishers can continue to extract profits from print – even if the product itself declines in quality – they will not walk away.
That said, Cole’s report requires attention. “We find that the strengths as well as the consequences of technology are more profound than ever,” he says.
“At one extreme, we see users with the ability to have constant social connection, unlimited access to information, and unprecedented buying power.
At the other extreme, we find extraordinary demands on our time, major concerns about privacy and vital questions about the proliferation of technology – including a range of issues that didn’t exist 10 years ago…
We find tremendous benefits in online technology, but we also pay a personal price for those benefits. The question is: how high a price are we willing to pay?”
Cole also argues that, over the next three years, the tablet will become the primary tool for personal computing.
He says: “The desktop PC is a ‘lean forward’ device – a tool that sits on a desk and forces users to come to it. The tablet has a ‘lean-back’ allure – more convenient and accessible than laptops and much more engaging to use.
For the vast majority of Americans, the tablet will be the computer tool of choice by the middle of the decade, while the desktop PC fades away.”