Northwest readers: buried in print?

Opinion January 25, 2011 0 Comments

Northwest readers: buried in print?

Even a charmed neighborhood like Chestnut Hill can’t escape the steady push of the digital revolution.

Last week, we learned that TLA Video, a 23-year-old Chestnut Hill attraction, would close for good.  It was left unsaid, but the reasons for the chain’s retractions are writ large across the media landscape of the last decade – with withering speed, old forms of getting information to people are dying off.

Remember when the biggest thing video stores had to worry about was making the switch to DVD? Those were the days. There was nothing similar a bricks and mortar operation like TLA could do to fend off services like Netflix that deliver a movie to your PC or TV in an instant.

Everywhere, there are similar challenges to traditional industries in which digital delivery is absolutely ransacking the old models. A New York Times story on Tuesday morning quoted several music industry executives who are struggling to stem the tide of billions in lost CD sales as digital sales of music have flatlined and piracy remains impossible to police effectively.

Newsprint and glossy publications are also trying to stop the red ink with new forms of reaching and interacting with people online. Many publishers are betting big on tablet computing and mobile apps as a savior for the print industry. If you’ve seen a magazine on an iPad, you know why print people like it. But honestly, if tablets don’t save print, I’m not sure what will.

Facing this climate, the Chestnut Hill Community Association – owners of this publication – prepares to make a decision Thursday about the Web strategy it will pursue with the Chestnut Hill Local. There are several options on the table, but regardless of which one prevails, it’s safe to say that the Local will invest more in online offerings.

In 2011, planning for a digital existence beyond print seems like a necessary survival strategy. With that in mind, I was really surprised to learn last week that the Journal Register Corporation was relaunching print papers in Mt. Airy and Germantown, having abandoned those neighborhoods two years ago.

As a professional cynic, I suspect that the relaunch isn’t much more than a way to boost circulation of the West Oak Lane Leader – both the Mt. Airy Times Express and the Germantown Courier are branded as editions of the Leader. This allows the JRC to tell advertisers it has expanded its reach, pick up zoned advertising in those markets all while spending nothing in additional infrastructure – reporters, freelancers, editors, etc. – to actually gather the news.

Either way, Mt. Airy and Germantown, which two years appeared to have no news sources, find themselves a hot commodity with the JRC’s offerings going up against the bi-weekly Germantown Newspaper offerings of Jim Foster, a robust Mt Airy Patch website and a better than decent presence of original Northwest Philly reporting by staffers of WHYY’s Newsworks website. And don’t forget that this publication and the monthly Weavers Way paper, The Shuttle, have  pretty good circulations in 19119 too.

Is there still a market for print at the end of what will most likely be known as the Digital Decade? If you asked the publishers at the JRC, the answer is apparently yes. The Northwest now has a lot of print products from which to choose.

Perhaps this time next year, though, the pickings will be slimmer.

Pete Mazzaccaro

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