Years ago I always knew that anyone who read this column, would be reading it in a newspaper or a magazine. But not anymore. The future has arrived, and it is very likely that you are reading this on a computer or even a cell phone.
Yes, we are seeing the end of paper. The Internet is the new queen of the communication media, and paper is simply dying. Newspapers across the country are folding because of the Internet — after all, with such fast technology available, why wait for tomorrow to read today’s news? And competition within the traditional media is fading fast. I live in a city with only one major newspaper, and we are lucky that The Miami Herald has very good journalists. But the quality of journalism would be even better if The Herald competed with another daily — but that is probably not going to happen.
In the United States, most people report that their main source of news is the Internet, rather than traditional, printed media. In a December poll, forty-one percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they considered the Internet to be their primary source of news, as opposed to 31 percent who get most of their information from newspapers.
Sixty-five percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 get their news mainly through the Internet — nearly double the number reported three years ago. And only 21 percent rely on traditional, printed newspapers. The Pew center also reports that in 2010 the Internet surpassed television as the main source of national and international news for people younger than the age of 30 — the first time this has ever happened.
These statistics don’t necessarily surprise me. As I’ve mentioned previously, my 24-year-old daughter and I both read The New York Times every day. However, while she reads content from the newspaper online, I await my printed copy, which arrives promptly at 7 a.m.
The media audience’s swift migration to the Internet has meant deep change for traditional journalism outlets. Layoffs will likely continue to happen at TV stations and in the print media industry as budgets are constrained. And journalists have to adapt their reporting to satisfy online audiences’ demand for instant news, or else they run the risk of becoming irrelevant. It would seem that the future is now.
Paper’s imminent demise is also apparent in the books industry. Just look at Borders Group Inc. — an enterprise with about 19,000 employees in more than 650 bookstores — which recently filed for bankruptcy protection. While the financials are complex, the central reason is obvious: The company just could not sell enough books. So, a firm founded in 1971 — a firm that was for a time the nation’s second-largest bookseller — now runs the risk of disappearing altogether.
Borders’ troubles selling books are understandable: People are starting to prefer the screen to the page. For evidence, look at Amazon, which has more than 800,000 titles that can be read on its Kindle device. The company reported recently that it sold more e-books than paperbacks during the last three months of 2010: for every 100 paper books Amazon sold, readers purchased 115 electronic books. So, besides saving trees, the ongoing decline of the sales of printed books might actually mean some enterprises may thrive. Amazon’s sales grew 40 percent in 2010 — not bad at all in a country still reeling from an economic crisis.
This paperless revolution is also toppling governments. The last time a newspaper truly had an impact on the American politics and government was in 1974, when reporting in The Washington Post led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation amid the fallout from the Watergate scandal. Today, communications via the Internet are generating revolutions throughout the Arab world. The regimes of Tunisia and Egypt have already fallen. Others are sure to follow.
As Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa put it in a recent essay, “the information revolution has been creating holes everywhere within rigid censorship systems that Arab satrapies have installed.”
“Cell phones, the Internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, the international television networks and other tools of audiovisual technology have revealed to all corners of the world the reality of our times — and they have forced people to compare .5hellip.75 ”
Indeed, the end of paper is bringing about massive social change; the revolutionary power of the Internet and related new technologies is undeniable.
But paper is not going to disappear completely. In my case, I write and keep my more personal letters and important matters on paper, and I am sure many other people do as well. I still prefer to feel, smell, touch and read a book in print than to read it in my iPad.
But in the ways we inform ourselves about the world, things have already changed. Screens are replacing paper and, whether we like or not, we must turn the page.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(January 31, 2011)