New controversy has arisen on how publications will fare in the modern age. With the rise of the Internet, everything and anything can be read online for free, and it is uncertain whether the physical, written word will still be relevant or even exist in the future. The future of reading will differ for news stories, magazines and books.

The Internet age will probably change news stories and publications the most. News stories do not need to be read thoroughly to be enjoyed, and the easy accessibility of the Internet makes it ideal for breaking news. Although some printed newspapers probably will still exist,RELATED ARTICLES
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they will be (and arguably have been) replaced by digital media. So now the real question is whether newspapers and news media companies will be able to adapt more fully to the Internet. The New York Times, desperate to save its sinking business, has decided to implement more pay-for-view articles on its Web site, and The Wall Street Journal requires payment. Still, it is too soon to see whether people will want to pay for their news. Although it seems unlikely, Josh Quittner in Fortune magazine makes an interesting point: People will pay for media if they believe that the price is reasonable, simply because it is more convenient. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, echoes this idea: “Anytime I want I can go on the Web to read the same content for free, but it’s not really about that. It’s about the package and delivery.” Basically, if newspapers make a stronger effort to entice readers to pay for a service, readers will pay. However, a certain amount of adaptation will be necessary in order for news media corporations to remain relevant.

Magazines, however, will probably experience a lesser change. The experience of reading a magazine is different from reading a newspaper; the articles are generally lengthy, detailed feature articles that delve deeper than a typical news story. Since such feature articles are generally more difficult to read, and require more pondering and time than a typical news story, they are better suited for the easier reading of print. Additionally, due to a difference in resources and access, established magazines do not face as much serious competition from the amateur content found on the Internet. However, if advertising companies do decide that the Internet is a better place to advertise and will provide more revenue, then magazines will have to make the shift due to their dependence on ad revenues.

Another very different category is the future of books. Although the Kindle and other e-readers have become popular, they still have not entirely upstaged tangible books (although they could threaten to). This can be attributed to the differences between reading a book and looking at a screen—generally digital sources cause eyestrain and some unpleasantness. However, if proper technologies are developed that cut down on eyestrain then e-books will probably replace physical books due to their cheaper cost, portability and environmental friendliness. The future of textbooks will probably be the same, as students still have not learned to absorb information they read digitally. Although math textbooks, which usually involve mainly problem sets, would make sense in a digital format, textbooks for other subjects would optimally remain in print. In fact, the general opinion is that students (who have been raised in the age of the Internet) do not want to read digital textbooks, indicating that the oft-repeated view that “books are dying” is exaggerated.

With the rise of digital media, publishing companies will probably need to adapt to ensure they make a profit. How much they will need to adapt remains unclear and varies for the type of medium: Newspapers will probably need to undergo big changes, magazines some changes, and books will need to change only if the technology for e-readers is improved. Still, the future of reading remains uncertain and in limbo between all-digital and mostly print.

Ana Carano wrote this essay when she was in ninth grade for a class at Palo Alto High School taught by Esther Wojcicki, director of the school’s journalism program.

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