Things are tough for the printed word these days.  Not for writing, or demand for information.  That is doing great – with more volume than ever!  But the issue is “printed” material.  Clearly, the format is changing.  But are business leaders changing with it?

The Los Angeles Times reported “ Says It’s Selling 80% More Downloaded Books Than Hardcovers.”  This is a big switch.  Clearly Kindles are making a big difference as people are buying a lot less paper, and reading a lot more bits.  Do you remember when your colleagues all said “I want a book, I don’t want to read looking at a screen?”  Do you remember when businesspeople actually printed their emails?  Clearly a sentiment gone by the wayside. 

Accuracy in Media reported “U.S. Newspaper Circulation Dropped 30% Since ’07.” And it’s a global phenomenon, with the U.K. down 25%, Greece 20%, Italy 18% and Canada 17%. Fully 2/3 of major countries are seeing newspaper demand decline.  No wonder Tribune Corporation, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, as well as others, is having such a hard time emerging from bankruptcy.  Every month this looks more like the buggy whip business.  Can you really expect the company to survive?

Amidst this backdrop, magazines have a dire future.  I can remember when browsing magazines was the norm, and trade magazines arrived in my inbox daily.  Often 60 or 100 page affairs.  No longer.  Magazines have disappeared like rain in the Sahara.  Their savior is supposedly to go digital, but according to magazine leaders are at a loss how to proceed.  In “The Media Disruption Within” Mitch Joel describes how a panel of magazine publishers are approaching the industry change mostly with despair that the internet is here – and no concerted effort to define a new model.  Lock-in was prevalent as they kept hoping for a return to the good old days for print publishers, which we know is never going to happen.

So today the New York Post reported “Mag Publishers, Apple in Subscription App Scrap.”  Most of us can acquire newspapers for an iPad issue by issue – but subscriptions aren’t possible.  The magazine fears it will be the big loser – and rightfully so.  If Apple controls the subscription and delivery, why couldn’t it repackage?  Where would Apple stop, and what value would the magazine actually deliver?  Since iTunes changed music buying, how many people buy albums?  It would require the editors and publishers be really sharp to know their market – something most gave up a long time ago when they turned to focusing on narrow content for their “core product” and trying to maintain their “core competency.”  Neither of which are very “core” any more. 

We all want news that’s exactly what we want, and we’ll simply go to Google to get it.  Who published it isn’t nearly as important to readers any more.  Nor is the packaging.  Pretty soon Amazon via Kindle, Apple via iPad, and we can expect a Google tablet to do the same, can start packaging up the chapters of various books for readers giving them just what they want.  And with that they can link off to source articles from newspapers and magazine archives – or to current events.  The role of publisher will get a lot less clear, as writers and editors can go directly to the electronic distributor with content.

Into this fray is an interesting new approach reported by, “Rupert Murdoch’s New Digital Game Changer?”  The claim is that News Corp. is preparing an all-new interactive product designed just for on-line and mobile users.  It wouldn’t be a re-treaded newspaper.  Text, photo and video designed just for the medium.  Now that would be the right way to go about preparing for 2020.  Unfortunately, the way News Corp. handled doesn’t give us a lot of comfort this will be a truly White Space project.  But if it is, it might just be the start of toward the product which will be journalism in 2020.

If you’re in publishing you have no choice but to get White Space going.  The intermediaries – from the tech companies to new-age publishers like – are moving forward.  The business as it used to be is gone.  But the demand for news – for content – is bigger than ever.  It will require a new business model.  A new Success Formula. And this is clearly a case of change or die.  The world will never again be as it previously was.

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a publisher – you probably are.  Do you put out customer literature – like user or repair manuals?  Do you put out sales literature? Do you communicate with investors or industry analysts?  If so, how do you “publish” your material?  Paper?  Packaged pdf?  In today’s world, an advantage can be created by moving quickly to what’s new. 

Today there are a plethora of luxury automobiles on the market.  These beautifully high tech luxury machines have manuals that can run 500+ pages!   It is impossible to figure out how anything works by trying the manual!  Why don’t manufacturers of $60,000+ cars have a Kindle (or iPad) built into the console?  Those cost less than a set of brake pads today, they can be updated automatically, and are interactive. 

Are you thinking about how you could use a $100 device to make life easier for your customers and supply chain partners?  Or are you printing?  If you’re printing, what’s your budget?  How much would you save if your salespeople, customers, etc. were given a Kindle?  Or iPad?  Can you afford not to be thinking differently about your future?