Online versus print publishing: Where do we stand today?

by Jocelyn Beretta

Finding the answer with the help of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare. 

The story of the race between the tortoise and the hare requires no introduction. But what does it have to do with today’s publishing landscape? There are more similarities than one may think, especially when the audience is in the spotlight.

Online publication as the bold hare

The Internet is a younger and faster medium for communicating information than print. Also, it’s still growing, with more websites and blogs created every day, fueled by both writers’ desire to write and readers’ appetite for more.

The reader can find information on any topic from the comforts of the home or office, and this information is concise and meant to be read quickly. The hare doesn’t waste time.

Advantages of online media:

  • It’s less expensive to produce
  • It allows readers to be active (through comments, sharing)
  • It can be edited or updated after publication
  • It’s available on several platforms including smart phones, tablets, eBooks and the good old PC
  • It has a high potential for reaching a wide, diverse audience (especially if a piece goes viral)

Print publication as the moseying tortoise

Like the tortoise, print publication is known for being slower and more rigid. Deadlines are firm, but for established titles and authors, print caters to a known demand.

Advantages of print media:

  • It results in a final, tangible product
  • It’s more profitable (although not as profitable as it once was, and who really profits?)
  • It has a loyal readership
  • It encourages the reader to linger (and possibly read more thoughtfully)
  • It enables higher retention of information

Who wins?

The main difference between the consumption of online and print materials is the time spent digesting the information. Online articles are more concise because they cater to a reader who is investing a few minutes (or perhaps seconds) to gain a maximum amount of information in a minimum amount of time.

Meanwhile, print magazines and books often serve more as an escape than as a distraction. The reader chooses to set aside time to focus on an article or story. In doing so, the reader is also able to retain more information, according to this study.

While the tortoise won the race in Aesop’s fable because of the hare’s overconfidence, the real winner in the competition between online and print publication is the reader. Readers have more information available at their fingertips than ever before. They also have more choices about where to get their information and how to consume it.

So the next time you’re trying to decide between publishing online or in print, think about the story of the tortoise and the hare. Is your work meant to slowly envelop or quickly inform the reader?

The medium truly is the message.

For more on the digital versus print debate, check out this Huffington Post blog. Think print outweighs online content? Then this Slate article will interest you as it discusses the ways in which print newspapers continue to trump online editions.

Jocelyn Beretta is a writer and aspiring editor who enjoys travel, food, opera, and the Oxford comma.

Creative Commons image by David Goehring.

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