Rumors have been spreading. Perhaps they come in the form of your dad telling you that "print is dying", or your wise aunt warning you to "not go into journalism" because first of all, ISIS, and most importantly, news firms are making "zero profit". But you’re holding a magazine – that should be very proof that print is not dying. Yet, what if this cost you say, 5 kuai? How about 10 – the cost of two jianbings? Would you still be willing to read this?
We have the Internet – that’s the primary excuse to not purchase print content. And it does allow us to do pretty much anything: write, read, download illegally, watch, post, share, and most importantly, publish. Anyone with access to wi-fi can be a reporter and journalist. Spot an interesting scene on the street? Take a video with your technologically advanced smartphone, post it online, and you’ve got a post great enough to garner the world’s attention.
And with the Internet comes easily accessible, free content. Magazines should be cheap; books should not be over RMB 70, and articles online. How many times have you grunted because The Atlantic required that you subscribe to read a certain piece? Exactly. It has become a norm to read free content.
However, the number of subscriptions for popular news sources has remained surprisingly unchanged. People still flip through The New York Times, and even view online media as an “inferior good”. Yet, ad revenue, which constitutes around 90% of news firms’ revenue,has significantly dropped. Businesses are unwilling to invest capital in traditional media. The digital world, though booming, similarly suffers. Readers not only avoid, but also despise pop-up ads that distract them from work. Print firms, though not dead, are on their way to oblivion.
But what do the readers think? We still read print.
When television was invented, people didn’t stop going to the movies. Cinemas offer a different, if you use the ever-so-popular vernacular that dominates tech crowds, "user experience". Popcorn, meters-wide screens, 3-D effects, friends, strangers, malls – they are the epitome of movie theaters, not lounging at home and accepting your fate as a couch potato.
The same goes for print. Digital content is easily accessible and most often free, but there’s always that strange feeling you get when “flipping” a page on the iPad just isn’t right. Magazines are visual, graphic, and interactive. The glossy pictures, the perfume advertisements with snippets of scent reminiscent of Teen Vogue, the print-block words, and the rough tactile nature of the dusty paper of China Daily are just different. They’re vivid, right in front of you, and begging you to breathe their content and understand their words.
People still demand stories. Legitimate stories by legitimate journalists. Studies have shown that most online resources rebroadcast “news” from original print-based sources. And most don’t scroll down Tumblr to gain wisdom and update themselves on current events, nor do they annotate the website Man Repeller and look to a 12-year-old blogger complaining about her "annoying brother" for up-to-date information. We look for trustworthy content that is written well even though the mainstream process is to Google anything and trust that it is "credible”.Good writing is still in demand; the words that speak and open up your soul, causing you to stop, pause, and reflect about the fickle nature of life and the meaning of existence.
So, is print dead? This writer opens up the question – what do you think?
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Cherry Chen, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
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