David Carr reaches for the futurist’s bong and take a big hit before exhaling the perennial b.s. that some ultra-portable, disposable, fold-it-and-stick-it-your-pocket device — aka Digital Ink, Digital Paper — will save the beleagured world of print.
In today’s (Monday’s) New York Times — my favorite day of the week because it’s when the Times devotes a few column inches to new media — the obituary is written for the newspaper business. Carr says that if there were only the equivalent of an iPod-like device for print, something so intuitively fantastic that one out of ten Americans would rush out and buy one, then voila!, the industry would be saved the way the iPod saved the neo-Jurassic music industry from a lifetime of lawsuits against bewildered parents who’s kids were siphoning off the entire Sony Music catalogue on the home Dell.
Carr misses the point but comes close to it. Early in the column he correctly talks about "companion media", stuff that you can half-way tune into while consuming other media.
The reason the iPod and podcasting and satellite radio and other aural media are surviving is the fact that you can listen to something while you do something else. I can listen to the Gillmor Gang on my Nano while driving to work on Route 128 and still operate a motor vehicle. I can read a good-old-fashioned book while listening to music. I can’t read a book while driving, so I’d have to consider an audio book. Can’t read and watch TV (but I can keep a little attention on something like CNN or C-Span). Actually, I can’t do email and listen to a podcast — if my attention is on writing replies I can’t exactly process what the speakers are saying. I can listen to Johnny Cash when writing email.
The fixed commodity is time and print is a 100% focused medium. You can’t read and operate heavy machinery. Sorry, but the most portable, inexpensive, battery-efficient piece of "digital paper" — even with a heads-up display or neural-cerebral-cortext plug is not going to save newspapers.
"Consider if the line between the Web and print matter were erased by a device for data consumption, not data entry – all screen, no baggage – that was uplinked and updated constantly: a digital player for the eyes, with an iTunes-like array of content available at a ubiquitous volume and a low, digestible price."
Sorry, there is an iPod for print and it is called RSS. The time-shifting, "push" delivery of syndicated content to the reader of your choice is where the shift in text has occurred and will accelerate. Putting a micro-payment system in front of it isn’t going to change anything. The print industry needs to wake up to the disturbing news that it ain’t about moving off of paper to glass anymore, that their own web efforts are severely threatened by a fast shift away from the decade old page-view, eyeball model to one of attention, distribution, mark-up, mash-up, tagging and manipulation.