Should we continue?

There are reasons for hope.

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It’s been over three weeks since this blog began.

The more research I do, the more depressing the news.

Print’s dead — but so is digital,” reads a USA Today headline. “In the past six years the print newspaper business in the U.S. has shrunk by more than half,” reports the author, Michael Wolff. “But the effort to reinvent the business online — in the mantra of publishing, ‘digital is the future’ — presents, if possible, an even bleaker picture.”

And, from Emily Bell, in the Columbia Journalism Review piece, “Facebook is eating the world”: “The internet and the social Web enable journalists to do powerful work, while at the same time helping to make the business of publishing journalism an uneconomic venture.”

I’ve only quoted snippets from the articles (they are long and nuanced and worth reading top to bottom), but you get the discouraging drift of the whole.

So, are we wasting our time here?

Maybe. But then I look at the list of BENEFITS we’ve created (with more to come) and am reassured by their obvious value.

I consider the fact that certain weeklies in certain rural areas are doing well.

I wonder whether, a daily —

  • with a modern press
  • that’s carrying no debt, and
  • is owned by a publisher willing to accept a 5 percent profit margin
  • and is serving a community that still has a healthy retail sector

— whether for that  daily, the traditional business model might yet work, if carefully modified.

And then, as I was handling the chores on our small farm this Easter Sunday morning, I caught a few minutes of Nathan Schneider’s conversation with Krista Tippett on her “On Being” Public Radio program.

Tippett said she liked the term “digital natives” to describe the young of today. Schneider replied that he thought the term was “troubling,” and in the course of his explanation he said something about the Occupy Wall Street movement that gave me hope.

“Here was something that was organized on the basis of an email,” Schneider said of the movement. “It started because it went viral on the internet, right, this is as internet driven as you can get — yet at every major occupation there would be a print newspaper within a couple of weeks.” —The Wisdom of Millennials (minutes 29-38)

And so I am heartened. Let’s keep exploring. Onward, my friends.

Author: TAM

For more about me, please visit https://savemydaily.wordpress.com

5 thoughts on “Should we continue?”

  1. Tam,
    I could rant about this for a long time, and if you want to get together with a bottle of wine, or a pot of tea, i’ll give you the long story.

    But here’s the skinny:

    Businesses have been getting disrupted for centuries. And they will continue to do so. When steel ship builders disrupted the wooden boat builders of Maine’s coastal cities like Searaport, Belfast, and Rockland, ships didn’t go away, just the ship builders who sat by watching their industry getting beaten by the new kids.

    I do not see any difference between a web-based newspaper and the newspapers of yesterday that printed, morning, afternoon, and weekly editions—except for the tremendous overhead incolved with printing. It is a constant flow of news published in case anyone wants to read it. Focusing on the tactile nuances of a newspaper is like wearing a ‘Kick me’ sign on your back.

    My publishing career, as you know, has been restricted to magazines and websites. I have never been a newspaper person, though some of the best people I have worked with were newspaper people. I love newspaper people. You helped me launch a web-only product about seven years ago, and it has grown into a wonderful success—financially and intellectually. And I would go further to say that it could be much more financially successful if the people who run it (a print-first mentality publishing company) would get out of the way.

    I have since launched another web-first product that is showing signs of excellence as well — nine months after launching, we are nicely profitable. Mostly because we launched on a dime and had great sales leadership that took a chance on a different model. But also because the editor (me) took a financial gamble as well.

    In between those two gigs, I was recruited as a change agent to a large B2B media company in DC to move the magazines to digital-first. What I learned there was that dinosaurs can be so selfish that they are willing to let franchises fold, while they wring their hands and reminisce about the good old days. Change is not comfortable to all, and some are willing to sink the ship rather than change course.

    There is a lot more of that out there than optimists like me believe there to be.

    The audience is out there. They still want news and information—constantly. The question is not about print or digital, the question is: are you, as a staff and as leadership, willing to make hard choices and do what it takes to serve your audience—and your advertisers—or would you prefer to go the way of the master craftsman wooden ship builders of Maine? Best in the world, and suddenly unemployed.

    A quote from a really smart guy I got to know in DC, who launched a mobile-only B2B platform:

    “It really doesn’t matter if mobile revenue will ever match print or other digital revenue. We live in a mobile world now. If you believe that mobile is a transformative technology, you need to build a business model around it. It doesn’t matter how much money you *used* to make.”
    —Sean Griffey

    I love this quote and idea because it absolutely describes the publishing world that I see every day: people (editors, sales reps, executives) wringing their hands, looking in the rear view mirror and lamenting that as soon as it is yesterday again, things will be good. That is what I discovered in DC, that is what I saw at the publishing company in CT, and that is what I read in the trade press every single day.

    The USA Today quote:
    “But the effort to reinvent the business online — in the mantra of publishing, ‘digital is the future’ — presents, if possible, an even bleaker picture.”

    That quote sounds to me like people complaining about yesterday not being today.

    You cannot drive down the highway looking in the rear view mirror. You need to look through the windshield and react th what comes towards you.

    Here are a few blog posts I have put together over the years on the topic:
    https://infotruck.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/print-vs-digital-publishing-is-a-moot-point/

    https://infotruck.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/how-to-dig-out-of-the-digital-hole/

    https://infotruck.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/why-the-web-made-editors-jobs-harder/

    All the best,
    Dan

    Like

  2. Dan,
    Thank you SO much for your comments. I have a great deal of respect for you and your work. I guess the reason why I’m going to keep at it for a bit longer is because I’m not convinced that a digital-only daily news model can support a newsroom as robust as the traditional model did—we’re talking 40 or 50 or 60 reporters, editors, artists and photographers, all working to cover their community and provide thoroughly reported, well edited stories in a thoughtful and attractive format. I don’t care what medium or format we use—print, digital, words or video, heck, I don’t care if we use GarageBand to turn the stories into music. I just want to see a new model that supports as many of the benefits of the old model as possible, and I don’t think we’re there yet. So I’m gonna keep going, but thank you. Tam.

    Like

    1. I think the main problem with trying to jam the old model into the new model is that the new model is totally different.

      The old model included not only a team of writers, editors, artists, and photographers, but also a manufacturing facility that bought paper by the truckload and ink by the barrel.

      That’s a lot of overhead for a model that doesn’t use any of that stuff.

      Magazines (my world) have issues (PUN!) of outdated structure as well. It is not the fault of online publishing, that print pubs have trouble; the whole ad landscape has changed. For one thing, newspapers don’t have a corner on the market of classified ads anymore. And, after the Great Recession, when advertisers pulled waaaaaaay back on their spending—and editors and art directors stopped getting raises—after the recession was over, the advertisers popped their heads out of their underground shelters, looked around and said “Hey look, the world is still here. Hey, we’re still here. Hey, wait a minute, we’re still here and we haven’t been spending an arm and a leg on print advertising.”

      Then they said “Hey, let’s stop doing that.”

      Many print publications are still looking in the rear-view mirror waiting for yesterday to come back, but digital news orgs didn’t know any different, so they began marching forward.

      I think a media company can still employ arm loads of editors and artists, but I think they need to take a serious look at their processes.

      After reading the NYTimes Innovation Report, I was dumbfounded by exactly how screwed they are. I thought they were a leader in digital journalism, but they are deeply entrenched in their old systems—and thinking. A team of backward-lookers can sabotage an effort just as effectively as an outdated system, and that is (partly) what the innovation report revealed.

      Maybe newspapers should print a big fat Sunday paper and leave the other days to digital delivery on a phone.

      Maybe everyone who works on a ‘paper’ does not need to work in the same office—or any at all.

      Politico used to be a website, and now it is a daily print newspaper, too. They got to the same place but with a model that fits the time they exist in. And they didn’t go to paper until it would be a profitable endeavor.

      I am not trying to talk you down from this project, just participating in the conversation, and looking for answers.

      Like

      1. Thanks, Dan. I don’t disagree. Print production and distribution costs are terribly high compared to digital distribution. Most U.S. eyeballs are constantly focused on digital devices. When you’re paying too much to distribute a product that nobody reads, you’re going to fail. But. They aren’t all failing. Not yet. Why? Because many readers still prefer to read their news in print—they’ll glance at headlines and a sentence or two on their phone—but they’ll sit down and read the printed paper (see http://www.journalism.org/2015/04/29/newspapers-fact-sheet/). Because many local retailers still see value in display ads, and the local daily is the only place they can do that on a regular basis. And because at least some publishers are willing and able to accept less profit.

        But we all know the industry is in a transition stage (aren’t we all?). It’s a fascinating and important topic, so I’m gonna keep going, for now. Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am working in a ProBono capacity with a nonprofit who publishes a magazine. That are grappling with some serious issues (and opportunities).

    Decisions and business model changes have serious implications on families, customers, and the greater good. It is important, I think, to consider all when considering the biz model.

    Some publishers are able to collect subscription revenue, some are not. I think that is critical because ad revenue alone is a tough row to hoe. Especially in digital world where inventory (supply) is basically infinite which drives value (demand) through the floor—natural supply/demand curve.

    I think it boils down to quality content to consume at all levels of the menu: appetizer, salad, entree, desert, wine list, and whacky cocktails.

    Of course, the menu needs to be affordable or no one will go out to eat.

    Liked by 1 person

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