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Newspapers and Books Going in Opposite Directions

I usually tune in to 60 Minutes and at least scan the headlines of the stories to be discussed.  This past Sunday a story about New Orleans and the demise of the print edition of its newspaper caught my eye for several reasons.  I had spent almost a year there on an assignment and remember well Mardi Gras, street car rides down Charles Ave., and all the great restaurants.

The 60 Minutes broadcast told of how the New Orleans Times Picayune (Times Pic) was reducing its print edition from 7 days a week to just 3 days a week.  The city and many of its leaders, including the Mayor, were outraged.  A point was made by them that the city with its poverty levels and political intrigue relied on the newspaper to keep people informed. This was particularly important during Hurricane Katrina.  Poor and elderly people simply did not have the resources to read their instant news on the internet which is the direction that the “Pic” is moving in. The city’s fathers are trying to mount a campaign to prevent the reduction in print edition including a private business man wanting to buy the newspaper.  A good story for follow up in 6 months or so.

That was Sunday.  On Monday, I flipped through my Saturday, super-big paper edition of the Wall Street Journal when a headline caught my eye: “Don’t Burn Your Book, Print Is Here To Stay”.  Say what?

This story went on to say the e-book has had its moment, sales are slowing.  The Association of American Publishers reported that the annual growth rate for e-book sales fell abruptly during 2012, to about 34%.  Still a healthy clip, but a sharp decline from the triple-digit growth rates of the preceding four years.

A 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that just 16% of Americans have actually purchased an e-book. Further, 59% say they have “no interest” in buying an e-book. At the same time, according to Pew Research Center, nearly 90% of e-book readers continue to read physical volumes.

Book readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages just like the readers in New Orleans want a news paper to read with their coffee and beignets.  Yes, news that can get reported in an instant is much different than a time insensitive book, but maybe there are lessons to be learned from what each type of readers really want.

The evolution of newspapers and books is going through technological upheaval.  Its been a long time since Gutenberg’s invention. I’m sure we haven’t seen the final answer yet!

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