Will newspapers, books die together or live separately?

Odoobo C. Bichachi

What you need to know:

  • Studies have also shown that books can make us happier, inspire us to travel, and encourage us to make life-changing decisions.

The obituary for printed matter – books and newspapers – was written many years go as the digital onslaught, engendered by the Internet and 4th Industrial Revolution, swept the world. Books and newspapers, it will be recalled, are children of the First Industrial Revolution that birthed the printing press.

The death knell for books started in late-2000s with arrival of the Kindle, a handheld electronic device that enables readers to flip pages of e-books on its screen and read much the same way they do with traditional printed books. Many predicted that printed books would not survive another decade! The young who make up majority of the world’s population would be reading books on hand-held devices including mobile smart phones, they opined.

Many publishers scrambled to create e-books, but the frenzy soon calmed down. Somehow the books survive, selling more and more.

For newspapers, the death knell was sounded a little later as the Internet spread, social media rose, and the diminutive mobile phones became more affordable, more functional, and it started to define our everyday life from the time of waking up to when we went to bed.

For newspapers, therefore, unlike books that were weathering the digital storm, the situation became more of an existential matter.

Today, many newspapers all over the world are in distress; struggling with falling print circulation as readers move online and onto social media, its negative issues notwithstanding. News vendors are going home as newspapers move content online in the hope of catching the shilling on digital platforms. Yet booksellers somehow continue to do business, yes – not to previous levels, but enough to get off the “endangered list”.

What has given books a lifeline and what can newspapers learn from it to survive the 4th Industrial revolution? I chanced upon an essay on USA’s Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB), https://www.howlifeunfolds.com/learning-education/7-scientific-benefits-reading-printed-books
The essay referenced several studies. Below are the seven points (edited short):
· Readers of print books absorb and remember more of the plot than readers of e-books do. Print readers also scored higher in other areas, such as empathy, immersion in the book, and understanding of the narrative.
· Children between the ages of three and five had lower comprehension of the story when their parents read to them from an e-book as opposed to a print book.
·Many jobs require one to stare at a computer screen all day, so books give the eye a break. Electronic books can cause screen fatigue, which may lead to blurred vision, redness, dryness and irritation. With print books, you don’t have to worry about any of that.
· Engagement and brain activity that comes with reading can help one drift off to sleep but the blue screen light can toy with melatonin levels and circadian cycles, making it harder to fall asleep and making one feel groggier when they wake up. So if you’re hoping to get a good night’s rest, stick with print.
·  Students who have books at home are more likely to score higher on tests. This is because it encourages children to read for fun and talk to their parents about what they’ve learned, which only stands to benefit them in the classroom.
·One recent study of college students showed that 92 percent of participants preferred actual books that they can hold and touch and leaf through whenever they please. In particular they enjoy the smell of books. Scientists who have analysed the chemical composition of old books found that the pages contain hints of vanilla as well as grassy notes. Studies have also shown that books can make us happier, inspire us to travel, and encourage us to make life-changing decisions.
While a lot of what goes for books above also goes for newspapers, what was not stated is that the content of books is often exclusive. You cannot get it on social media! Newspaper content, on the other hand, is not exclusive; it is all over social media, blogs, vlogs, etc.

Lesson? For newspaper to claw back space lost to digital platforms – like books have done, it will have to invest in niche and exclusive content. This will not be “breaking news” or ordinary news. It will be feel good functional, entertaining or enlightening content. Yes, there many people that still love the smell of paper, want to save their eyes, be less distracted, sleep well, enjoy reading stories, and want value for money.
They are enough to pull newspapers from endangered list.

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