Quick, incoherent thought #4: the power of print

Why do we use newspaper instead of hardback books to distribute news?

Silly question, I know, but bear with me.

We use newspaper because – in the world of paper-based products – it is the most cost-effective, efficient way to transmit information to a defined audience on a regular basis.

But if there are new ways to transmit that information that is more cost-effective and more efficient (the Internet, for example), does that eradicate the value of newspaper?

Well, the people who queued outside The Washington Post for their special edition on Obama’s victory would tell you there was a value to print and it has been argued that this is proof that newspaper is still the format of choice for important events. “People didn’t print out the news on their computers”, goes the argument.

This is, of course, right. People didn’t print out the news from their computers. But then that doesn’t prove that web-delivered news is a lesser product or any less likely to disrupt the print media business. 

What it does prove is that there is an innate value placed on print that is not just defined by efficiency or speed of delivery. There is something valuable about it as an object, something to keep as a memory of an important occasion. Digital is, at the moment, still considered too transient a medium for keepsakes.

I know newspapers are great at creating special editions. Perhaps, however, there is a value in looking at how having a reputation for creating printed products could be used even more to our advantage.

Liverpool Daily Post’s current project of creating a book containing pictures submitted to their Flickr Group is a fascinating example. The value is not in the pictures themselves (which are mostly available online), but in the fact that they are in a big glossy book that can be kept as a keepsake of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture.

So, it was cheap and quick to print extra copies of the Washington Post on the day of Obama’s Victory. It made more money. What other print products could the Washington Post have sold on that day, or in that week? A special limited edition of all the articles it ran about Obama on the run up to the election? Some form of picture book?

Perhaps then, on some occasions, there would be a business case to argue that news would be better delivered in a hardback book…