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Monday, December 08, 2008

Fairness? What's fairness?

(This was my column for today at Future Tense, a blog on the transitions in the publishing industry.)

Over at Future Tense, some of us have been blogging about the transitions that the publishing industry is facing. For example, Wendy Nelles notes that Thomas Nelson's recent layoffs represent a 9% decline in book sales.

There have also been cutbacks at Augsburg Fortress, and here is an item on the death of print magazines. I have written on how major media in general are in the tank, and what all that means. It is to that theme that I return again today.

Essentially, young people are not reading much print media. That should not especially surprise anyone - travelling the Toronto subway, I often see young people listening to music or texting each other, but almost never see them reading newspapers or listening to regular radio. Now and then I see a young woman flapping through a fashion mag, but the fashion writers are kidding themselves if they think that she is reading their work closely.

If anyone in a given subway car is reading a book, chances are it is a Bible or a Koran, or else it is "on the lit course." I think books like the Bible and the Koran will survive, because to those who read them, they aren't just books, they're Books. Ritual surrounds their reading. At my own (Catholic) church, for example, an elaborate procession bears the Bible to the lectern and everyone stands as the priest reads (and kisses the book). Similarly, at Simcha Torah, Jews dance with the Torah. That kind of thing hasn't changed in thousands of years and I don't expect it to. But typical print culture - tabloids and fashion mags, for example - is going the way of all mere culture ... into oblivion

A possible alarming development, however, is that old media might try to survive by getting government to give them an edge against new media. This morning, American columnist George Will drew attention to this possibility: Go here for the rest.

PS: Mark Steyn writes, "In related news: Chicago Trib seeking to avoid bankruptcy; Miami Herald's principal asset is the lot the building is on; S&P downgrades New York Times to junk." Useful to know, in view of what they will say about why we must all bail them out.

I have just learned that the Tribune has filed for bankruptcy protection. No wonder they need a "fairness" doctrine!

Yes, I will be back to my regular coffee stool tomorrow. But today I had to do my volunteer stuff for The Word Guild, which means writing about writing.

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