Print Is Dead

“Print is dead” – Dr. Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters

Earlier this week we received a letter from Dave. A novelty, it contained nothing too interesting, just some tax documents. What caught my interest was the stamp on the envelope. It featured the 2010 USPS stamp commemorating the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. It is pictured above.

Our two boys, Daniel and David, grew up reading this daily strip in the paper. Long after the comic strip ended and longer still since either of them had been six; they still enjoyed reading the books that collected Bill Watterson’s works. Many a long car trip went much smoother with a stack of these books in-between our two boys. Later Aunt Jane gifted this family with the massive three-volume set, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.

Most if not all of our Calvin and Hobbes books were purchased at a Borders Bookstore. Even though it was a gift, I know that The Complete Calvin and Hobbes was purchased there too. This week Borders filed for bankruptcy. A company’s failure is never a pleasant event. I spent thirteen-years riding down my first employer’s demise, years that added little to my retirement.

Any subscriber to the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch has seen the diminution of our newspaper. It is now only a shade of its former self. This is indicative of the overall decline of the newspaper industry. I doubt that Mr. Watterson would now be able to make his money, in eleven years, like he did back then.

In general, hardcopy media is suffering. Between the twin demons of Napster and iTunes the music recording industry has all but collapsed. This probably contributed to Borders problems too. The movie industry has erected barricades, which have helped, but internet and wireless bandwidth limitations have probably been more of an obstacle. Technology will eventually leapfrog these walls and lay bare Hollywood’s defenses to digital discounting.

Because the music recording industry has fallen so far, so fast, it now finds itself ahead of the curve. Going digital will never support the industry that was. Just like after the fall of the dinosaurs, only the smaller creatures will thrive. Many independent musical acts have already made this transition. They have become their own general contractors. They arrange their bookings, organize their tours and manage their own recordings. This throws more work on the shoulders of the artist and little of this new workload is artistic, it is all business. Still, musicians are making a living this way.

Online book publishing is flourishing. Outfits like Lulu, allow anyone to become their own publisher. Successful authors already have to split their time between writing and promoting. Multi-city book tours are the norm. As any author will tell you, at each stop, each volume is sold, one book at a time.

Dr. Spengler or whoever really first said that print is dead was wrong. A medium may wax or wane, but it is the current system that purveys the message that is dead. Like old Soviet central control, big music and now big bookstores are obsolete. Small and nimble is the new game in town. Like a Phoenix from its ashes a new book industry will arise. As long as there are new artists like Bill Watterson and new artworks like Calvin and Hobbes, people will buy them.

2 thoughts on “Print Is Dead

  1. I remember buying that Calvin and Hobbes. I remember how heavy it was standing in line to buy it. Or maybe I’m confusing it with the complete Far Side, which I bought for myself. also very heavy.

    Yeah – bankruptcy is not fun. We’ll see how long this lasts.

  2. Print may be dead, but it is still somewhat more satisfying to put pen to paper when writing a letter, that typing it out. (At least for me)

    That said, editing on a computer is quicker in the long run – but I enjoy my hand edits that become an almost incomprehensible treasure map to decifer.

    And stamps – also an item that is being hit hard. Word from our post office is that all stamps will soon be “Forever” stamps. And postcard stamps, as a different denomination, may cease.

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