Joe's Thoughts: The Decline of Traditional Media

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Do traditional media like books and newspapers have any place in an increasingly electronic world? If you live in the United States, chances are you’ve seen the sad state of Borders these last few weeks. With over 511 stores around the country, these shops are now plastered with red stickers and discount signs. How did such a powerful force in the industry collapse? The answer to that can be found in e-readers and the rise of eCommerce; people are not reading less, they are just reading differently. E-readers, such as the Kindle or Nook, make reading more convenient, and each device can carry hundreds of books in their memory, not to mention being lighter than the average paperback.

The increasing popularity of e-books has drawn more people to purchasing books online. A simple click, and you’ve downloaded the book you wanted and it’s ready to read immediately. Every e-book sold means one more person who isn’t going to the book store, meaning one more person who isn’t going to browse. Most people who visit a bookstore don’t know exactly what they want, and may end up buying several books rather than the one they intended to pick up. This phenomenon is entirely averted when purchasing an e-book.

That’s not to say e-books can entirely substitute for books. The tactile sensation of flipping pages, the smell of a new book, and actual feeling of owning a physical product can never be reproduced by an electronic medium. But even this is not an obstacle to eCommerce, because people buying paperback and hardcover books online also have a negative effect on traditional bookstores. It is worth remembering that Amazon started as an online book seller, and then branched out. Online sellers don’t have to worry about presentation, atmosphere, or nice cafes to sit down at, only storage space. With all these factors against it, it’s a surprise Borders held on for as long as it did.

Books are not the only medium that is facing a constant threat from the web. With the rise of the Internet, communication and free flow of information has exploded. The question is no longer whether you can find out what happened, but from whom you should find it out from. There are dozens, even hundreds, of potential news sources you can access for free. It’s no wonder that print companies are facing declining subscriptions and relevance. Nor does buying an actual newspaper have the same appeal buying a new book does, because there is no enjoyment in handling recycled paper. So with a hundred difference sources to choose from, how are newspapers distinguishing themselves? Mostly, they are no longer focusing on what happened, but what people have to say about what happened. Editorials, opinion pieces, and investigative journalism have become the draw of major newspapers; the ability to offer unique and insightful analysis from experts is still highly valued. Major companies like the New York Times have moved away from a free model to an online subscription model. Even with these changes however, it is inevitable that online models will continue to erode the dominance of the printing press.

Do you use an e-reader for news and e-books?