One of the many unintended consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak was to hasten the movement of many things from hardcopy/in-person to digital/online. Money is one such example. Cash is a dying commodity with debit card, smart phones and sometimes digital watches used to pay for goods and services.
Another casualty of the crisis has been the physical matchday programme. The club I support no longer produces a hardcopy of the programme which instead can be downloaded digitally. This was a decision made after the return of football fans to stadia following the pandemic.
During the week a GAA memorabilia collector bemoaned this transition on local Dario. He argued that this transition was eroding decades of social history which were stored in these programmes. The artefacts not only acted as an official record of a game but also provided information on other things such as economic conditions, business operation (via advertisements) and community notes.
Many collectors of such programmes will argue that the programme was more than just an account of the day but served the common good, acting as a public good of sorts long into the future.
The decision of clubs is understandable. The economic costs of hardcopy production are high. As someone who sold matchday programmes when I was young, it was plain to see how hard it was to equate demand with supply. Often, we would be left when hundreds of copies of unsold programmes. The timeline for production is also very tight. Hardcopies need to be with a printer days in advance.
The marginal cost of a digital programme is close to zero. Digital editions can change in an instant, right up to kick-off time. There is no paper or printing cost.
It remains to be seen how long the hardcopy will survive in our digital age where “sustainability” is such a ubiquitous word. And while there are gains to digital production, something has been lost. A social and economic history that others will not be able to access as easily in the future. The days of finding old programmes in the attic will be long gone.