Alvin Soon's Blog

Alvin Soon male Associate Features Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.

The Next Wave of Publishing

In the last 40-odd years or so, we've moved from a pre-PC era into a PC age. Today, with the accession of smarter-phones, tablets and mobile internet, we're seeing the beginnings of a post-PC epoch.

Like the internet revolution before it, the post-PC age presents both challenges and opportunities to the world of journalism in traditional publishing. Print journalism is dying and it needs to find a way to survive in post-PC media; the next wave of publishing.

Print as a medium is at the heart of the problem. In the United States alone; advertising expenditures for newspapers from 2005 to 2010 have dropped by 48 percent. 105 newspapers closed down in 2009, and in the same year, 23 of the top 25 newspapers reported a 7 to 20 percent decline in circulation. The evolution, started when the internet eroded readership numbers, accelerated into a revolution as the Great Recession delivered heavy body blows to advertising budgets.

On average, newspapers rely on ads for 80% of their revenue. Even though online readership has increased over the years, digital advertising hasn't caught up enough to make up for the losses in print. In 2010, the New York Times' digital advertising only accounted for 20% of its total ad revenue, and it's why traditional publishers are finding themselves in a quandary; stuck between a printed rock and a digital hard place.

At the same time, it's essential to separate the medium from the message; the erosion of a medium doesn't always invalidate the value of its content. Like how the works of Shakespeare have value whether they're engraved on wood, inked on cloth or published in HTML, the art of journalism has inherent value whether it struggles as printed or digital media.

It helps to remember that changes in printing technology aren't new. Print technology arose around 3000 BC, and it's evolved from block printing to movable type to the printing press. Today's revolution in print technology is in the post-PC device; a mobile screen – whether smartphone or tablet – which connects to a network and downloads media, in a form factor better suited to media consumption than previous PC devices. And it's where the next wave of publishing will be rooted.

Consider the iPad 1, which sold 15 million units in its first nine months. It stimulated a tablet-rush, with other manufacturers racing to release their own tablets; the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, BlackBerry Playbook. Smartphone penetration has been so rapid, market research firm Nielsen predicts that by the end of 2011 more users will carry smartphones than feature phones.

The next wave is gaining momentum; already traditional publishers offer digital downloads of their magazines through mobile apps. But without taking advantage of the new medium and designing specifically for it, it's akin to scanning PDFs for the web instead of coding content in HTML and CSS.

Instead, the transition to the next wave will necessitate a more profound mesh of the technologies of the post-PC age and the content creators themselves. Like how content creators learned to take advantage of the printing press, they – we – now have to evolve to take advantage of these new mobile tools. We're just on the cusp, catching a glimpse of the next horizon on a choppy sea of change, and guess what? Surf's up.

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