Now, back to incessant rambling about publishing. If you notice, I’ve put an RSS feed to Newspaper Death Watch down the right side. If you have any interest in media at all, or some behind the scenes looks at how the industry actually works, this place is great. I feel a little bad about linking to stuff they’ve focused on, but I’m going to do it anyway.
There’s a great post up there today by Judy Sims called “Top 10 Lies Newspaper Execs are Telling Themselves.” It’s a good read, and I’ve heard just about all of them myself at one time or another. NDW does a masterful job introducing the piece, so I’m not going to repeat that effort, but it’s definitely worth a look. The reason I’m bringing it up, however, is one of Sims’ earlier posts that speaks to a very serious concern I have; namely that, as the game gets longer and the revenues for large, traditional media companies continue to fall, we will all be faced with legal challenges to the very structure of the internet itself in a last ditch effort to throw lawyers at a problem they can’t handle competitively.
In my personal job experience, I’ve seen first hand how a larger competitor will come up with any old line of bull to force smaller, sometimes much more financially challenged competitors to spend some of their scarce resources on legal fees. It works two ways; one, it gets you to take time and money away from actual competition, and two, they might actually win in court; although option two is usually less important. I can guarantee you this, the large former media barons will not go quietly into obsolescence. They will sue, threaten, lobby and otherwise create massive amounts of legal-sounding concerns that will force everyone involved in the future of media on the internet to put aside the business at hand and deal with them.
The most concerning, to me, is the idea that they can just lobby Congress to pass legislation that undermines copyright law, fair use, and, potentially, even the First Amendment. Whether it works or not is one thing, but no one can deny that the music industry slipped one past everybody with the DMCA and the idea that $150,000 in damages for one incident of loosely defined “infringement” with no requirement to even show actual damages was a good idea. They’ve used that obscene provision (bought, paid for and even drafted by industry insiders) to extort money from their own customers in a futile effort to stop downloading. And if you don’t think the publishing industry won’t try to do the same, you’re kidding yourself. When it’s annihilation or send in the lawyers, get ready for some court time.
There’s another link to an article there today that I liked as well. Pat Thornton writes about the need for publishing companies to get “down and dirty.”
Thornton gives a great list of things publishers need to do to survivie the new reality. My favorite was this gem:
More content creators than managers — Journalism is all about content and products, not about managers, editors and meetings. A certain amount of managers and editors are needed, but most news organizations are very top heavy. You want to be bottom heavy.
Here, here. I’ve been saying this for years. My mother, who’s worked for a publishing company nearby for the past 25 years, has echoed this sentiment, albeit in a somewhat racially insensitive way. “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” I’ll believe that publishers are serious about change and adapting to the future when we start to see companies laying off managers to keep the actual talent. Not holding my breath waiting for that, however.