As some of you may have heard, our local newsagent here in London’s Marylebone closed down last week. The passing of Green’s has resulted in something of a campaign led by our editor in chief with The Stack: our print-industry radio show. As part of this I set off for balmy Cannes earlier in the week. Here – among the palms and packs of chihuahuas – were delegates from Distripress, where the print industry’s distribution and publishing factions meet and make deals. This is the place where questions of which title and how much the newsagent stocks is ultimately decided.
I expected to find an industry in the doldrums, a sombre mood of the profitless among those counting the days to the inevitable death of print. But no, the language is now of managed decline (still somewhat depressing) but at least not death as it was in the recent past. There was much optimism and signs of growth in various, mainly niche markets. People love print and always will. “But what about the kids?” asked one disillusioned delegate. “They are never going to part with money for a printed newspaper!” To which the speaker calmly replied: “Would they ever have done that?” The audience laughed and in many ways the joke was very knowing. It is impossible to predict the fads and technological fetishes of future generations. People are already talking of the need for digital detox and many weekend newspaper sales are on the up.
However, I must admit that an involuntary blush came across me as the audience seemed to smirk at the concept of a child buying a newspaper in any time past or present. I was one such child. When trips abroad were less frequent and seemed more exotic I would scuttle along to the local newsstand and gawp at the racks wherever I found myself. Carefully rolled into three with the banner visible I would preserve these newspapers as artefacts of my foreign holiday. El Pais, La Repubblica, Le Monde: the typefaces and adverts alone transported me to a place so much more interesting than home. The papers would largely go unread but felt like a connection to the place they were printed.
Disturbing revelations of a slightly strange childhood aside, the increasingly rapid demise of the newsagent in the UK at least is a disturbing progression. As with so much in the world of commerce, perception and potential (not actual) profit have more sway than reality. You can’t help get the feeling that if newspapers and magazines were promoted, displayed and sold in a better way then the appetite for them would grow. How can print do anything but die if there is no place to buy it? These are all big industry questions that will no doubt be answered in time. Meanwhile I might just add the fresh Paris Match I have just bought in Cannes to the yellowing, crispy one that I have kept on my desk for months. Yes, I’m afraid old habits die hard.
David Plaisant is an associate producer for Monocle