Paper or Electronic

Market View

John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,

"Paper or Electronic"

So, everyone is getting on Internet. We´ll all soon be connected on that great information superhighway, and the world will be changed forever. Soon everything will be available to everyone all the time.

Not so fast, pal. Maybe it won´t quite happen that way. Sure, the Internet and all those exciting ramifications are going to have a profound effect on the way we all do business, and on just about every aspect of our lives. But many of our current ways of operating will survive for a long time. For publishers, will our method of business be one of those survivors? Or, is paper publishing going the way of the buggy whip?

At the recent Annual Meeting of the American Business Press (the organization of trade magazine publishers), the two big topics were the growth of Internet and the doubling this year of paper prices. It seems like a dichotomy that if the electronic superhighway is going to take over the transmission of information then why are paper prices going through the roof? There are many factors involved in this current paper shortage that really don´t relate to the Internet; so, we´ll leave that alone for now.

However, listen to what the speakers surmised on the future of magazine publishers (and probably all information providers). One major conclusion: strongly prepare to be on Internet or miss out on one of the greatest opportunities ever. There are major questions, however: how to do it- how much to spend- when to step forward- wait two years and let the costs decline- totally new styles of editing? A second conclusion: no publishers are making money on Internet now, and there is no real assurance of what will occur in the future.

In fact, Òeveryone is now a publisher.Ó What a scary thought; but it´s true. Just get on the superhighway, put up a billboard, and the distribution system is ready and waiting.

A comparison was made with the 19th Century gold rush when the enormous publicity was centered on the gold miners' opportunity to strike it rich. Most miners went bust, while those selling picks, shovels, booze and jeans made steady profits. Another comparison was made with the growth days of disc jockeys on radio; the record industry was fearful that the free distribution of music on the airwaves would put their industry under. However, the opposite occurred. With a significantly wider audience for new releases and an ability to substantially increase exposure, the sale of recorded music exploded and is ever expanding. So it will be with books and magazines, and many other forms of publishing.

Distribution is only one facet of publishing. Providing the critical editorial content in the most useful format for a specialized audience is of basic importance. With new techniques for color, graphics, pictures and the mulitiplicity of presentation, paper products are here for a long time. Regardless of increased bandwidth on Internet and reduction of transmission costs, the special characteristics of printing on paper will keep that medium important. Successful publishers in electronic format, though, will have a whole new paradigm of interactive presentations that will develop their own audiences. If it follows most developing industries, certain big winners will set the standards and the broad public will settle on following them. Niches will provide the opportunities for others, and the overall market will expand greatly. Specialized paper publications will grow in these niches as the critical business information will continue to be the "first read" that is looked at.

I´m really excited about the possibilities. Look on the problems as providing opportunities. By the way, if you´re really interested in why paper prices have doubled just give me a call.

If you have comments, please contact me at Technology Transfer Business magazine: phone: 703-848-2800, ext. 151; fax: 703-848-2353; internet (of course): jsanders@technews.com.

prepared for the June, 1995 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink