The Right Word

The power of the printed word

I laid down the thin sheaf of pages that is currently passing itself off as my morning newspaper, and remarked aloud to my wife: “I feel like the day is coming where I won’t be able to sit down and read an actual newspaper or magazine.”

“I know, dear.” She’s patient with me and my rants. I like that about her. But I also know she understands that I’m not just whining about it. Reading newspapers, magazines and books – on paper – is one of the great joys of my life.

I take pleasure in reading the morning newspaper every day while sipping a cup of hot, black coffee. And I do it whether I’m at home or away. A martini and a magazine is a terrific duo. And a good book, anywhere any time, is

sublime. But it seems the age of the printed page and its associated ink-stained wretches is coming to a close.

Newspapers everywhere are mere shadows of their former selves. The blame for the decline usually falls upon declining advertising and the internet. And yet I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophesy from an industry with slipping standards.

The jury is still out on magazines. News magazines – Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and others – are disappearing. A lack of advertising is again often cited, but the reality may be that weekly news is simply old news in today’s electronic world. Other titles seem to be suffering as well, and yet the magazine rack at the airport newsstand is crowded.

Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning around with regards to electronic books. While still popular, the demand has leveled off. I can only hope this means I will still be able to turn the pages on a book for the foreseeable future.

Still, despite the death knell for the printed word, there is one industry that seems oblivious to it. The evidence is in my mailbox and it comes in the form of Christmas catalogs.

For the past several weeks, my mailbox has been – literally – stuffed with catalogs. Clearly, my mail carrier is not concerned whether or not I can get them out, as long as he can get them in. Once or twice I thought I would have to resort to the Jaws of Life.

It strikes me that these catalog publishers face many of the same challenges faced by newspapers and magazines. More and more we shop online. Ordering through a catalog seems somehow archaic in the world of prime two-day delivery. And yet, they continue to print catalogs.

What do they know that the newspapers don’t? Maybe it’s that, when people have a physical piece of paper in their hands, they can scan, tear out pages, flip back-and-forth, skip pages that don’t interest them, see new ideas, be inspired and maybe even learn something.

Many consumers will still buy online, but the paper catalog may help them decide where. It may be an ugly Christmas sweater, but there’s still power in the printed word.


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