Problems on hold
Today’s print media the world over is battling for survival before the deluge of digital media swamping the Internet. The issue arouses heated debate among specialists and the public alike. Views vary according to age group, level of involvement in the publishing and production business, and even according to the emotional attachment of an individual to printed paper. Those for the survival of print journalism argue that reading papers is an unparalleled experience; the sitting back to indulge in reading, the feel of the paper, the turning of the pages, all form a cherished experience. Others sing the praises of electronic press, its technological tools, its remarkable capacity to report news and events as they happen, and the round-the-clock updates.
Supporters of each camp cling to arguments which they consider decisive. Fans of printed papers boast that print still garners the major volume of the advertising market which represents the lifeblood of the media. Those who believe in the digital press argue that this will not last long and is bound to crumble before the wonders of digital advertising, the audiovisual and video effects, and the potential to carry visitors to new horizons. Add to this that online content is more often than not accessible free of charge, whereas readers have to pay for printed papers even if meagre amounts of money.
It is undeniable that age is among the crucial factors that divide the two groups. Those who defend print versions mostly belong to the older age groups; the younger generations constitute the majority readers of online papers.
This issue seems not to interest public opinion in Egypt; yet it strongly bothers those in the media. Most concede that it is a matter of time before print gives way to online publishing. They believe that printed papers would be wise to get ready for the day when they would have to bid their readers goodbye. They should seriously invest their professionalism, techniques, human resources, technology and funds to develop a digital substitute that would carry their readers to new horizons.
In fact followers of the international press know that some renowned international papers have foregone their print versions in favour of online versions. The prestigious UK daily The Independent and its sister weekly Independent on Sunday are the most recent in the list. The owners announced their decision to stop publishing the 30-year-old print version after its circulation retracted from 500,000 daily issues in the 1990s to 40,000 – 60,000 issues today. The owners announced their decision to focus on their widely-spread online version. “Readers nowadays would pay more than the double of the paper’s cost for a cup of coffee,” The Independent’s editor-in-chief commented.
Insiders with the British press say that The Independent is neither the first nor will it be the last among the papers that turn digital; other renowned papers are likely to follow suit owing to declining circulation and advertisement revenue. They mention such names as The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Financial Times. Even the most widely read British papers will not be able to escape this fate.
Here in Egypt readers and media specialists cannot accept the concept of discontinuing print papers despite the shrinking circulation figures and advertisement revenue. Talk of shrinking figures abounds behind closed doors and reflects a headache for the owners and staff of printed papers. The unspoken question is how much time before the closure of print media? And are papers preparing themselves for the inevitable online era, or will it have to kiss its readers goodbye?
28 February 2016