Anybody out there want to get something started? This is a call to anyone and everyone interested in exploring some of the possibilities of the new emerging media landscape.
For a long time now, we’ve been saddled with a somewhat ineffective and unresponsive media more concerned with its own ability to generate nice working margins for its corporate masters than any particular use or value to us, the people who buy, read and pay to advertise in their products. I’ll be the first to tell you that the last five years have been brutal for traditional media. In the past, I’ve mentioned how this half-decade has seen the industry itself contract to the tune of nearly half its size. And with that, we’ve seen deeper and deeper cuts to the very elements that attracted us to them in the first place. And let me ask, how many of you were satisfied with the performance of these publications before this happened?
I can recall hearing complaints about some of our local print entities for as long as I’ve been able to read. At this point, how much legitimate long-term value do they still have? And how much longer will they be able to maintain even that lessened state at the current and still-ongoing rate of loss? Even the most optimistic projections are expecting quarterly losses well into the double digits for at least the rest of this year, and probably longer if some magic pill doesn’t arrive and fix our ailing economy and somehow manages to re-sell everyone on print advertising at the previous rate structure that has lost so much of its luster due to new, different, much more efficient and significantly cheaper alternatives.
Like it or not, our newspaper and publication industry is nearly entirely dependent on advertising to support its high cost structure, and advertising and marketing opportunities and getting more plentiful every day, and that pressure is driving the pricing structure consistently downward. Even if the ads return, which is far from guaranteed, they won’t be at the prices they had been in the past, which means even more salespeople will need to be hired, even more ads will need to be sold, even more pages printed and distributed, and even deeper cutbacks in non-direct revenue generating areas like content necessary just to stay in business. This is the very definition of a death spiral, ladies and gentlemen, and barring some great unforeseen savior, such as the sudden ability to print reams of material completely free of charge, there’s no stopping it.
And make no mistake, the reason why these large publishers haven’t already migrated to more mobile, internet dependent formats is because they can’t. The costs are far too divergent for any kind of transition to be practical. Basically, it would be more useful to shut the place down, sell off anything not nailed down, and start over than to do any kind of effective migration. These are business people, after all. If they could have pulled this off, they already would have. How many industries have you seen lose half of its business inside of five years and not respond in any meaningful way other than cut expenses and try to wait it out? Well, industries that didn’t ultimately end up shuttering the doors, anyway? To me, it’s like standing on the deck of a sinking boat and hooking up a bilge pump, hoping it can pump the water out faster than its pouring into the massive gash in the bottom of the hull. It may hold out for a while, but eventually, that pump will burn up and down you go.
So, as a community, we’re left with a choice of continuing to support fading institutions or doing something about it. Me, I’m on the side of doing something. Which is why I’m looking for anyone who might be interested in joining in. And by anyone, I mean anyone. Writers, artists, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, salespeople, financial backers, businesses, civic groups, government organizations; anyone, professional or otherwise. All that’s needed is some enthusiasm, a desire to explore what’s coming next, and a belief that you can bring something useful to the table.
For a long time, the local paper has done its best to represent the community, sometimes more successfully than others. But in the past couple of decades, there have been some unfortunate occurrences for publishing that have left many of us without a key element in our lives, or at least the leftover remnants of what once was. The first was the trend of media consolidation that gobbled up so many of our local institutions, turning them from unique, responsible members of our communities into cookie-cutter money-makers for the giant corporate entity that owned them. And these large monsters didn’t just buy up one or two papers, they bought up papers throughout entire regions, controlling the main means of communication for millions of people without even the slightest thought to us other than the revenue we could generate for them, revenue sapped from our local communities to the corporate office sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles away.
The second problem is the emergence of the internet as a direct competitor for communication. Certainly, not everyone is wired in yet, but the possibilities are virtually boundless. And much like previous technologies such as telephone and electricity service, high-speed internet is quickly becoming a utility in its own right, soon available to all, and very likely soon without the massive infrastructure in wires linking everyone. This has changed the entire ballgame. And unless we want the coverage and information of our communities to disappear along with the newspapers when their failing business model finally dies, and the giant corporate institutions discard them and move on to the next industry to rape and pillage for profit, now is the time to do something about it.
I don’t like seeing newspapers reach this point anymore that you do. I have been a dedicated reader for years. I used to stop at the small convenience store in my neighborhood growing up to buy a paper every morning before going to school. It’s why I started working in the field I did; I was so proud the first time my name was on a byline in an actual printed publication. But even I can’t leave the blinders on any longer. As much as I would like for newspapers to reclaim their positions of the past, I can’t ignore reality. They are obsolete, becoming more so with each passing day and improvement in technology. And what’s worse, they’re expensive to produce, and almost solely dependent on a revenue source that itself is moving on to other ways of doing things. We can either climb aboard the sinking vessel and pointlessly help them bail, or build a better boat.
So, think about it. If you are a creative sort of person, the possibilities for things that can now be done must excite you. If you are a business, the possibilities to better promote what you do has to be attractive, especially with declining ready cash to pay for expensive print ads that are producing less and less value for your money. If you are someone who simply wants to know about the things going on in your community, the possibility of a genuinely open and engaging world of information must seem like a dream come true. So many things have changed lately, and so many more are yet to come. If we don’t want to be left behind, we have to build the future for ourselves. Lord knows the government’s not going to do it, the corporate publishers aren’t going to do it, no one is going to do it if we don’t step up.
So drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. The future is just waiting for those who want to take it. Otherwise, all we’ll be left with is the hollowed out shells of what used to work yesterday. Think about it, and let me know. All are welcome.