Print newspapers and journals could suffer another setback as Google Inc. ventures its way into the online newsstand segment.
News of this emerged a fortnight ago in a report by the Wall Street Journal, which quoted unnamed sources. The WSJ said Google was trying to garner publishers’ support for a new Google-operated e-newsstand that would run on Android devices. The WSJ said Google already held talks with a range of publishers, including Time Warner Inc.'s Time Inc. unit, Condé Nast and Hearst Corp.
This move may also translate into a threat to Apple and its iTunes, which has so far enjoyed rapid growth ‘with great publications’, according to the Apple spokeswoman quoted by the WSJ.
What will this mean for print newspapers and journals?
As online applications are constantly seeking to offer more portability, if (or rather, when) Google actualises the venture, print newspapers and journals will unavoidable feel the ripple effect.
For those who already rely heavily on their smartphones and tablets for the daily headlines, emailing, document viewing (and editing, if the software allows), photo sharing, tweeting, updating Facebook profiles, and for waking them up in the morning, more publications on-the-go is a fat bonus. Probably, even the most avid supporters of print publications would feel inclined to migrate online. Or would they?
Ventures like these are profit-based. But they unavoidably have to rely on the choice the consumers make. So far, the consumers have neither repudiated all printed matter in favour of migrating to online versions, nor have they refused to discover what e-books, e-journals, e-newspapers and e-readers have to offer.
We don’t want to choose. We want both.
So where are we right now? If we take newspapers, for example, I would say we’re somewhere in the middle. Many of us are well used to receiving customised content on their desktops (or smartphones or tablets) every morning. I customise my subscriptions to receive technology news from across the five continents, but when it comes to other areas like finance, I limit myself to reading a few headlines from one or two reputable papers. RSS makes it even more convenient, as it frees up the inbox and gathers headlines or articles in one place. And if we want to take ‘customisable’ to another level, we can create our own paper (such as paper.li) and tweet it. On the whole, online newspapers have become very popular, almost as popular as television.
As a consequence, readership of print newspapers has dropped. Yet, and this is the main point, many of us still rely also on print newspapers – if not daily, at least once in a (short) while. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre (September 2010) in the US reported that ‘instead of replacing traditional news platforms, Americans are increasingly integrating new technologies into their news consumption habits. More than a third (36%) of Americans say they got news from both digital and traditional sources, just shy of the number who relied solely on traditional sources (39%). Only 9% of Americans got news through the internet and mobile technology without also using traditional sources.’
Admittedly, print newspapers are still more portable than our portable devices. As much as technology connects us with the world, it’s also that same technology which prevents us from migrating exclusively to online news sources. The portability (or lack of portability) of our computers or devices, our Internet connection, the software we use, and our e-skills in navigating our way around content are all issues which traditional papers seem to secretly team up with to ensure we don’t get to choose one over the other.
And maybe, even if all the conditions are ripe for us to migrate exclusively to online sources, we wouldn’t be willing to give up on buying more hardcovers, or to surrender our print subscriptions, or to live without our bookshelves, after all.
Can you imagine, 50 years from now, a world without public libraries?