Jon Meacham: As Far As Digital Delivery of Print Goes, We’re ‘Kind of Where the Sony Cassette Walkman Was’

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Earlier this week, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. compared print media to the Titanic. "Even if the Titanic came in safely to New York Harbor, it was still doomed," he told us. "Twelve years earlier, two brothers invented the airplane." Last night at a lecture at the Columbia School of Journalism, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham warned students against such simple analogies. "Is this the telegraph to the telephone?" he asked. "Is this the telephone to the Internet? Is this the horse and buggy to, you know — you get lost in analogy land. It is certainly a transformation. But for one thing, [print] won't go away."

Later, we asked him to clarify. "We might be living in a world very soon where there is electronic paper, and that, yes, Newsweek is beamed to you and you look at the page and you push it and it comes and goes," Meacham said. "The idea that we would be so comfortable with iPods, etc., even five years ago, ten years ago, was fanciful. I think if we've learned anything in the information revolution starting in the late eighties going forward, it's that nothing should ever be dismissed as fanciful. The Jetsons were right."

But Meacham says that we might not quite be at the era of digital readers that print fatalists believe us to be. "Forgive my possibly overly facile analogy here, but when we are looking at the digital delivery of the printed word, we are kind of where the Sony Cassette Walkman was," he said. "There will be, I think, an interim step that will be a CD Walkman. And then it seems to me there's going to be an iPod."

Earlier: Times Publisher Compares Print Media to the Titanic