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'Slate on Paper'

Mike Kinsley gets all Darwinian about the demise of newspapers:

"Industries come and go....Sorry, but people who have grown up around computers find reading the news on paper just as annoying as you find reading it on a screen. (All that ink on your hands and clothes.) If your concern is grander -- that if we don't save traditional newspapers we will lose information vital to democracy -- you are saying that people should get this information whether or not they want it. That's an unattractive argument: shoving information down people's throats in the name of democracy."

Can I just say I miss Slate on Paper. That was the version of Slate that some of us had delivered to our homes many moons ago. It allowed us to observe the intellectual amblngs of Kinsley, Plotz, Salatin, Shafer, Weisberg et al with the special tactile pleasure, the storability, retrievability and markability (circling a passage, or heckling the writer in the margins) that are characteristics of print.

Nathan Myhrvold recently told us that Slate on Paper was Microsoft's concession to the Beltway crowd that wouldn't read Slate online. And then Slate On Paper went away, maybe because the crusty crowd finally got used to reading things online. Even an old-school porch-sitter like me is now just about as happy with my laptop and wireless connection as with a broadsheet paper.

But the Darwinian approach doesn't persuade me. Sure, technological revolutions aren't gentle, and some institutions invariably get hurt, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't point out what is lost in transition. It's not just the Baghdad bureau and the investigative staff. It's also the State Department beat, and the Justice Department beat, and all those other beats once pounded by reporters who have evaporated in the industry collapse. Gone is just about anyone over 50 with institutional memory, out the door with a buyout. Dwindling is the narrative journalism that doesn't move at the pace of the click-click culture.

Sure, the consumer rules. But the consumer has been given a confusing choice: You can read it on paper for a price, or you can read it on the Web for free. Only in the fine print does it say that if you choose the rational second option you will destroy the business model that supports the journalism to begin with.

Darwinian evolution is not deterministic or progressive. Organisms don't necessarily evolve toward complexity. They don't necessarily get smarter or prettier. The media landscape is evolving into something that most of us would say is inferior to what we had before. Read your basic mid-size metropolitan paper lately? How about AOL News, with those made-ya-click teaser headlines?

Something's fundamentally not right when the companies that create content don't make money, and the ones that aggregate it do. That's not evolution: That's bad business.

--

Excellent riff on the Internets by Curmudgeon in the boodle (bring your own ominous soundtrack):

'The big problem with suggestions that newspapers need to find a new business model is the underlying assumption that there actually IS a successful one that can be found. The problem is, I fear, that no such thing exists.

'I am afraid that the fact of the matter is that the Internet kills institutions, and also creates new ones that are toxic. Yet the Intertubes exist beyond anyone's control. Initially, this was thought to be a good thing-- some sort of "democracy" writ large. But it isn't democracy writ large, it is anarchy coupled with untameable business greed writ large. The world does not need an institution that is both global in size and scale, and utterly without controls.

'For many years sci-fi writers as well as scientists and engineers working on AI (artificial intelligence) have labored on the notion of how to build a machine that can "think," or at least to replicate human thought (which may or may not be the same thing). And the mega-question has always been about whether such a thinking "machine" would be controllable by humans, and if so, how. And if such a machine went "rogue," what would it do?

'The thing is, the AI folks and the sci-fi writers can stop pondering this futuristic question, because the future has arrived, and that machine is here. It is the Internet, a global series of computer servers all linked together and functioning totally independently of any single person or group of people. It cannot be controlled, and it does whatever "it" wants to do....' [There's more in the boodle....]

--

A scientist predicted the Italy earthquake, only to be shot down (via Memeorandum). Authorities told the locals not to worry -- a week ago. But: Radon gas is a quake precursor?

By Joel Achenbach  |  April 6, 2009; 9:32 AM ET
 
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Comments

First? Slow day on the Boodle or is everyone else having trouble logging in again?

Change demands new paradigms. While I know newpapers have been struggling with online profitability, somehow the answer hasn't evolved yet.

Time for everyone to push down the cardboard sides of the boxes we're in, and think.

Posted by: -dbG- | April 6, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

First?

I have to agree with you about the business model, Joel, but I'm still paying for a print subscription because I'm old school.

I have suggested to the Geekdottir that she create a new business model for newspapers that will allow them to be profitable in the Internet age. So far, she hasn't told me that she's been successful with that. I hope she can do it, and make herself the next Bill Gates.

Posted by: slyness | April 6, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Front page alert, folks. Bunker will open as necessary.

Posted by: slyness | April 6, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Well, I left that comment on the last kit about the lack of newspapers in the grocery checkout lanes. Plenty of Horrible Gossip Magazines there. Just no news. The power of impulse purchase shouldn't be denied, either.

Several more musings at Chez Jumper about alternative energy. One's especially for Scotty.
http://jumpersbloghouse.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 6, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I s'pose that there will be a shake-out period, during which newspapers all will collapse except for a hardy guerilla band of independent news-producers, flitting from ISP to ISP with their moveable news blogs as the lumbering totalitarian Nanny state of Democrofascists and Republisocialists takes form. A century from now, journalism will find its new model and rise once more.

In the meantime, we can take comfort in the idea that the breakneck pace of technological development that we see now, likely will be impeded in a time of breaking necks. At least it will stave off the moment when well-meaning Minifirm software developers create an Artificially Stupid robot entity that will reproduce itself and pester every individual at every moment: "It looks like you're trying to go to the bathroom. Do you want help with that? It looks like you're trying to brush your teeth. Click my button (Oh, baby!) to find out more options to minimize tooth-brushing time. It looks like you're trying to make a baby. You have Wisdom-Checking™ activated at this time: are you sure this is a good idea?"

Posted by: ScienceTim | April 6, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'll have to examine that @ home, Jumper, thankee. :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | April 6, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Some random thoughts.

I remember how surprised I was to discover in NYC a few years back a paper edition of The Onion - I had no idea they had an "off-line" copy as well.

I'm confused about the term "aggregate" in the context of news. Google News and Drudge only provide links and tiny summaries. In many senses most newspapers are more the aggregate news sources, purchasing articles from AP etc.

Because of that, one of the first things I did with my first internet connection way back in the early 90s was to go straight to the source - the newswires or local news sites for local stories.

On newspapers generally, I think the present course will continue until the newspaper companies collectively decide to start protecting their intellectual property. If the major papers only put week old content on the web, news junkies will pay. I know, because I are one.

Posted by: engelmann | April 6, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

"On A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES."
"On a field" is a reference to the sky, not a meadow.
"Sable" is a hue meaning dark or black.
"The letter A" is an alignment of the moon and the stars, of course in the form of an A. If the bearing is towards Boston, Massachussetts, well, so much the better.
"Gules" is not to mean a color, red, but rather an action, READ.
The end of dissecting Mr. Hawthornes work.
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Etherally speaking.

Posted by: cookkenusa | April 6, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

The big problem with suggestions that newspapers need to find a new business model is the underlying assumption that there actually IS a successful one that can be found. The problem is, I fear, that no such thing exists.

I am afraid that the fact of the matter is that the Internet kills institutions, and also creates new ones that are toxic. Yet the Intertubes exist beyond anyone's control. Initially, this was thought to be a good thing-- some sort of "democracy" writ large. But it isn't democracy writ large, it is anarchy coupled with untameable business greed writ large. The world does not need an institution that is both global in size and scale, and utterly without controls.

For many years sci-fi writers as well as scientists and engineers working on AI (artificial intelligence) have labored on the notion of how to build a machine that can "think," or at least to replicate human thought (which may or may not be the same thing). And the mega-question has always been about whether such a thinking "machine" would be controllable by humans, and if so, how. And if such a machine went "rogue," what would it do?

The thing is, the AI folks and the sci-fi writers can stop pondering this futuristic question, because the future has arrived, and that machine is here. It is the Internet, a global series of computer servers all linked together and functioning totally independently of any single person or group of people. It cannot be controlled, and it does whatever "it" wants to do.

more

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

2

In part, massive international corporations are making beaucoup money off of it, and therefore have no motivation whatsoever to "stop" it. Beaucoup users have no motivation (and no means) to stop or control it. That it is operated in some sense by humans on a microcosmic scale simply means that this thing is just "the Borg," but kind of in reverse.

This machine has already transformed entire industries and institutions, and is literally "killing" other ones.

We are just about universally agreed that newspapers, as institutions, are "good" things, and we nearly unanimous (but not quite) in agreeing that they ought to be saved and "preserved" in some sense. Yet they are dying, and no one can stop it or prevent it. Just think about that one salient fact: no one can stop the Internet from killing an institution that almost no one wants to die.

Worse, the "futurists," who are invariably IT people or heavily IT and Internet-connected people, keep saying ridiculous things of a somewhat faux-Darwinian nature, that newspapers "may" die but that they will be replaced by something just as good (or maybe even better). Yet these futurists (like Clay Shirky, whom Joel linked to the other day, http://www.shirky.com/weblog/) are speaking totally from their Ouija boards, and are uttering what amounts to "articles of faith" and some sort of New Age faith-based notion of "progress" that if they were speaking about any other subject but the future we would mock them and hold them in contempt as some sort of cult evangelicals. Their mantra is "We don't know how the Internet will replace newspapers, but it will, and it'll be just as good or better. Trust us."

This is one of the very, very few benefits of being so old. I likely won't get to see the world disintegrate.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

If you understand the latest iteration of evolution, you would see that periodic dieoffs, emptying niches so that new forms have room to grow is part of the pattern.

That is the analogy that holds here. Newspapers will die and new forms, none of which is yet in a form that can be evaluated, will arise.

Speaking of evolution, we now have the classic competitive scheme in play in which advertising that pays for web presences such as this on the web compete with browsers who try to block that advertising.

Posted by: edbyronadams | April 6, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Tim,
As a former ISP owner, I want all those promo dollars back from you.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 6, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised that there isn't a cable revenue model for newspapers online. e.g. bundle a bunch of papers together and charge a nominal monthly fee for access to various newspapers.

NYTimes Select was too much for too little value, but $5 a month for online access to a number of papers would be a way of capturing online revenue that papers aren't currently realizing. Give print subscribers access for free.

In time papers might discover that that a fee of $5 a month actually produces a larger per unit margin than the print version does. If a person wants a print version as a commemorative item, charge extra for it. The key with online content is discovering what the optimal price point is for the largest possible audience. Maybe $10 a month nets 100,000 readers while $5 a month nets 1 million readers; and $1 nets 2.5 million readers (in this hypothetical example a price between $5 and $1 is the optimal price to charge readers). I’m skeptical about micro-payments, but who knows, maybe there’s some merit to that approach. My sense though is that people will tend to ration their “use”; whereas a subscription fee gives a steady revenue stream.

In terms of sales too, newspapers could also offer links to Amazon.com through its referral service and collect fees for music, book, and DVD recommendations that readers purchase, or link to Apple iTunes in exchange for a percentage of referral sales.

Papers also should also do what tobacco and credit card companies have been doing for ages -- get the kids hooked at a young age. Find ways to cultivate the habit early. Sponsor programs with high schools as a kind of loss-leader. A decade or so ago the Washington Post and other papers were doing this with colleges (e.g. students were able to get a subscription at a discounted rate).

As far as journalism as a craft goes, it definitely is taking a beating. A lot of this comes from the mislabeling of some "news" outlets as "news".

Professionalizing and credentialing the field like attorneys, doctors, and even realtors might be a way of protecting turf. If someone is practicing journalism without a license, don't let them call themselves "journalists". Reporters lose their "license" if they engage in shoddy work. Reporters could even have professional initials after their names. (Tongue slightly in cheek, but who knows, maybe that's a way to elevate the profession in the public eye and to get some distance between the true article and the pretenders).

I disagree though that the quality of information is declining. On complex subjects most opinion pieces and news coverage just scratch the surface.

If a person wants detailed information on the housing crisis for example, there's a universe of good economic commentary available on the web beyond what's in newspapers. The value of newspaper coverage is that it provides readers with leads for additional, independent research. It serves as a point of departure for further study.

Posted by: JPRS | April 6, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

bc, thanks.
not looking good. it is really too private to post anything. sometimes you just think that there will come a time to sort out some things and say what's on your mind. more often than not, the door closes and you can't. it is what it is.

Posted by: russianthistle | April 6, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, ed. This is exactly the kind of futurist, faith-based psychobabble I was talking about. I couldn't have asked for a better example of it: "That is the analogy that holds here. Newspapers will die and new forms, none of which is yet in a form that can be evaluated, will arise."

And these new forms will be created by...um...who exactly? They will be owned and controlled by...uh...who, exactly? Giant multinational corporations? Bill Gates? The spawn of Bill Gates? Well, see, we don't know. But it will all be OK. Trust us. Take our word for it. It's the future, man. Just let it happen. Roll with it. The future's always better than the past, right? Except for those few glitches in 1914 and 1939, mankind always advances. Wall Street knows what it's doing. The Marketplace is always right.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, you're scaring me! But good stuff, I just added a bit of it to the kit.

Posted by: joelache | April 6, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I have the answer, and here it is:

PAY FOR IT!

Print is dying because people won't pay enough to support it. All of the boo-hooing I keep hearing from the print-lovers is put to the lie when they are faced with the most basic question in all of capitalism: Are you willing to pay for what you want? They themselves provide the answer: No. Or, no I'm only willing to pay so much.

Posted by: allknowingguy | April 6, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"The boo-hooing we hear from the print-lovers" is because we ARE the ones paying for a paper that gets thinner every day and is threatening to go the way of the dodo, if it hasn't done so already. Also, evolutionarily speaking, the dodo did not become extinct by itself or due to any natural occurrence. Humans killed it, like we are killing our newspaper industry.

Joel indicates that we are giving the consumer what he wants when we go with shorter, flashier online versions. I don't remember what movie it was from, but,

"The customer is always right."

"The customer is an a$$h0le."

Aren't we just bowing to the least common denominator of society when we dumb-down our news for mass-consumption?

Posted by: Gomer144 | April 6, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

allknowingguy,

"Print is dying because people won't pay enough to support it."

How do you know this? How often does the Washington Post survey its universe of online readers to see if the readers are indeed willing to pay for the service?

I have never received a questionnaire from the Washington Post or any other paper on the topic on the topic. They must have a pretty substantial universe of email addresses simply based on the log-in requirement. A larger number of those are likely to be legitimate email addresses (if they're phony, the Post could kick those people off its service until they get a legitimate email address).

As far as the "I'm only willing to pay so much" -- I'd guess that the online edition isn't as expensive to produce as the print version of the paper.

If the costs of delivery are lower online, then even if readers pay a lower price for online content than a print edition, the online edition has the potential of being more profitable.

People are willing to pay $3 for an Ap on an IPhone that they might use a couple hundred times. That $2.99 fee adds up to real money over time. Papers could even offer a "life-time" subscription fee for some readers. The problem, in my view, isn't that people are unwilling to pay for online news content, the problem is that the legacy newspapers either haven't spent money to determine what the value of their online content is, or that they haven't figured out a way to measure what the value of the online content is to readers.

The value for most regular visitors though is likely to be higher than $0. Anything above $0 is unrealized revenue.

Posted by: JPRS | April 6, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps what is needed to to follow a model like iTunes - as in Inews the ability to download your choice of newspapers/stories/magazines. With the option for user selected bundles. Of course this would really only work if the information is not available free elseswhere.

I would like to add the disclaimer that I am not now nor ever have been a futurist :-), although I am closely related to one.

Posted by: dmd2 | April 6, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

DM, sorry to hear about your old friend's brain event. Such news is always shocking.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 6, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I do feel the need to clarify your subsequent point that the big machine - all those linked computers - aren't thinking any more than the computer on your desk is.

Which is sorta where I disagree with you on your simile with the Internet and AI. Your body does plenty of things without your attention or control, yet when you reach for your keyboard to to write that I'm an idiotic young whelp, your arms and hands respond, even as your eyes refocus, your heart keeps beating, and the thousands of autonomous systems in your body keep running. Does your pulomonary system 'think?'

I don't think so. The higher level cognitive functions that recognize 'Cogito ergo sum,' are the same ones that cause you or anyone else to click over to NFL.com or other people to tmz.com or MyFace or whatever.

It's not a series of computers (implying synchronicity), but an asynchronous array of computers with communications, protocols and addressing according to very strict protocols and rules, allowing access to a lot of content and applciations anywhere, anytime.

It's the content - the information - that's unregulated, just as your fingers and your brain are unregulated, and as are everyone else's.

I do agree with your general sentiment that "It is the Internet, a global series of computer servers all linked together and functioning totally independently of any single person or group of people. It cannot be controlled, and it does whatever "it" wants to do."

But there isn't an "it" that controls the eyeballs, hands and minds at those keyboards and mice.

"It" is us.
It us with the safetys off, with anonymity of computer interfaces and the speed and reach of the world's computing and information resources at our disposal.

And perhaps it isn't a pretty picture.

Someone please remind me what online businesses that are making money again?

bc


Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Years ago, the Wall Street Journal set up a printing facility in Orlando, strategically located so the huge satellite dish was visible from I-4 or the Turnpike.

The WSJ, paper version, is still printed in Florida, as are the New York Times and Financial Times. It's a technical and delivery marvel, but I assume one that won't continue much longer. Maybe a bit like the Tiffin Wallah lunch delivery system in Mumbai.
______________
Miami hit 95 degrees on Saturday. No wonder everyone was complaining about the heat.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | April 6, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

There's a confusion here between whether the media is evolving and what it means to evolve. The existence of evolution is not predetermined. But it is a plausible hypothesis that when evolution is working, the evolving system becomes more complex. That does not mean certain elements of the system will not become more simple--a complex system is characaterized by, among other things, the diversity of its components. Generally, however, evolution works from amoebas to humans, and not the other way around. This is not necessarily progress, and certainly not if the particular human used as an example is Dick Cheney.

Posted by: rjoff | April 6, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

"Avenue Q" answers your question pretty succinctly, bc...

*submerging back into the paperwork morass*

:-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | April 6, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

*quick resurfacing*

Jeez, the folks in Springfield will let ANYBODY in...

http://www.boston.com/sports/basketball/articles/2009/04/06/jordan_robinson_stockton_among_5_elected_to_hall_1239030622/

:-)

*down scope*

Posted by: Scottynuke | April 6, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that people believe that getting the news on-line is "free". But it's kind of like the cost of operating a car. Most people only look at what they shell out for gas each week. The other costs - maintenance, insurance, depreciation, etc. are buried in the general family budget. We do pay for the internet--whatever AOL or NetZero or whoever charges us per month, which normlly comes out of an automatic deduction from a credit card. But, those costs aren't evenly distributed. If you are connected at work and have the time to catch up there, then it may not be directly costing you anything, but the connection cost is coming out of the business's bottom line somewhere. You still have to pay actual money for a paper, either via your monthly subscription bill or at the paper box on the street.

It may be that papers are going to have to adapt to model used by a lot of little local papers - have the subscription costs cover more of the production rather than try an depend almost solely on advertising. And maybe they have to go to only 5 days a week, or even weekly.

Posted by: ebtnut | April 6, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Scottynuke, that last question was somewhat rhetorical, my friend.

I'd posted a link to that AQ song in the Boodle a couple of years back (done with WoW characters).

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm trying to figure out if the guy behind the Castros in the picture on the WaPo Opinions page is Michael Madsen or Elvis Costello.

Posted by: Gomer144 | April 6, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

woohoo! i got me a pair of u2 tickets!

Posted by: LALurker | April 6, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Reposted from previous Boodling, Pt 1:

"As long as people keep birds as pets, raise puppies and drink coffee, there will always be places in this world for newspapers.

Seriously though, as humans have evolved, so have our tools and media to communicate with and entertain each other.

Over time we've moved away from story telling, epic poems, cave paintings, clay tablets, smoke signals, sheep skins, papyrus scrolls, hieroglyphs, hand painting and lettering , engraving , etching, typesetting, and many other technologies and methods for communication.

Interestingly, the way we communicate, through STORIES, remains recognizable across time.

While part of me really loves the newspaper as we know it, the way we communicate with each other is changing. I don't know whether out reluctance to reduce or do away with certain types of print medium has to do with human reluctance to change away from things we're comfortable with (I'm guilty here), or the fact that the current media infrastructures are so deeply entwined with western capitalism.

Consider the volume decreases in demand and production (and income) for all of the major 20th century media businesses: film/movies (including DVD sales), broadcast TV and radio, recorded music, books, newspapers/magazines, etc. All of these kinds of media are associated with production, packaging, and distribution infrastructures that require significant capital investment (usually as part of a conglomerate involving multiple related businesses), and as a result they depend on volume sales and/or advertising to make money.

Now consider the rise in the alternatives to the above: Cable TV and Tivo, Wide band Internet, News/Media/Search/Information Web Sites (OK, I'll put blogging in here), email, satellite radio, digital music (MP3, iTunes, etc.), Cell phones, VOIP, etc. One big effect of this is that consumers can personalize their media inputs, and because the content is digital, common delivery infrastructures (e.g Internet/Cable TV) can be used for many of them. One side effect is that consumers more often filter out broadcast advertising; advertising that pays for the generation of that content. Hey, the Olsen twins didn't super-rich because of movie theater box office sales, or their TV shows..."

More to come.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

There is also a kind of supreme irony at work. It isn't the journalists, per se, who are unable to solve the problem of staying in business or keeping the institution of the newspaper alive. It really isn't the job of reporters and editors to create new/better/different business models. Their job is to be what they are: journalists. No one asked them to also be savy business people (any more than it is the job of doctors and nurses to solve the health care crisis).

Rather it is the *business people* and the *advertising people* within the newspaper business who are unable to create the workable business model. It is the business geniuses, the folks with the Wharton and Stanford MBAs, and all the advertising wizards on Madison Avenue who can't figure out how to get properly reimbursed by their businesses' customers.

It's not the job of Joel, and Paul Farhi, and Weingarten, Pat the Perfect, Hank Steuver, Len Downey, Kevin Merida, Tom the Butcher, Marie Aranas, Cindy Borer, Tom Boswell, et al. ad infinitum to figure this thing out. That's *not* their jobs, nor is it their expertise. (But they are sort of getting the flack for their "failure" to figure it out anyway.) No, it is the people in the business end of the operation, and the advertising end, who cannot solve the problem.

Also, what I think the people who are arguing about this newspaper or that newspaper charging for its product don't quite grasp is that this problem of paying for news cannot be solved (IMHO) by any one individual newspaper doing this, that or the other. A lot of people always bring up the old chestnut about how the NYT attempted to charge for its special columns, and failed.

In my view that is a totally bogus argument and a bogus example. The problem isn't that the NYT tried to charge for a part of its work, and failed. The problem is that newspapers and news media charging for their work has to be a total all-or-nothing proposition. EVERY newspaper, news magazine, TV and radio news department, every wire service, every podunk small-town rag and every big city paper--thay ALL have to charge for their stuff, 100% of the time.

more

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

2

Think about it: if only half the news media charges for its stuff, and the other half doesn't, which half are consumers going to go to? The free stuff or the stuff that costs money?

So yes, OF COURSE the NYT experiment was doomed to fail. And this is why all the Harvard MBA geniuses and the Madison Avenue geniuses have been unable to solve this problem: because they are unable to figure out a way to make their practice of charging universal.

And its is worse than that: not only do they have to act with something close to 100 percent unanimity (which is also probably illegal), but they now have to buck a customer base that is "spoiled" by having gotten something for free.

Which is why I view the problem as insolvable. The iron fact, which the futurists just don't seem to grasp or care about, is that proper news gathering costs money. And they place all their faith in a futuristic mechanism (the Internet), which doesn't know how to earn money for its product, because it insists upon giving away its product for "free" (what is incorrectly perceived as "free").

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

More reposted from previous Boodling"

"It looks to me that we have two models emerging for digital media: ad-free pay/subscription entertainment content vended on a highly granular/personalized level (e.g. satellite radio, online digital music, digital video, etc.), and advertising-based news and information (WasPost.com, The Onion (ha!)) publicly available on the 'net.

The big struggle as I see it is for each of the media outlets is the process of continually evaluating their business to make sure that they're investing in areas that are growing, and downsizing those that are not. For newspapers, this means that they have to face the fact that they need to reduce their print production and delivery capacity to meet real demand, and that means facing hard choices and making decisions.
Note: I did not mention the Washington Post Express here, because I don't know the real numbers behind it. I do suspect that handing out free miniature newspapers might be a useful tool for generating site hits, but I don't think it makes anyone spend $.35 on a paper. Again, I don't have any hard data one way or another.

The storytelling will go on, and so will the moneymaking. But changes are coming to traditional media companies in an effort to make them financially competitive in global and digital marketplaces at the level they've become accustomed to, and it's going to be painful.

Bah! This comment has gone on far too long. Apologies.

bc

Posted by: bc | November 7, 2005 3:11 PM"

Just a thought, anyway.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

One thing I've mentioned consistently over the years is that I do see that a new model of news syndication agencies that have a real journalism arm.

That's where the good stuff will get done.

Unfortunately, it looks to me that it's going to be much smaller than what we see even today.

Putting all of this data and information gathering tools makes it look like journalism is easier.

But what they're convneiently neglecting is the idea that people need to look at all of that information, sort out the good from the bad (and lord knows there's plenty of *that* ), and go through the writing and editorial processes to deliver quality products, with thought and reason and a high degree of accuracy.

Which, unforunately, many people value less today than they value absolute speed.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

SCC: "Pulling information together using Internet-based data-gathering and -mining tools makes it look like news journalism is easier."

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

The only thing I pay for the Achenblog is the internet provider, who keeps all the money. That's where the money went. Smashing success way back when of Drudge, The Mediocre, proves huge appetite for news. News is still popular.

Perhaps reporters should be defenestrating the Corporate honchos.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 6, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

bc, you're making a major mistake in thinking that the quality of the product is a factor. Quality of product is almost NEVER a factor in business. (The proof is that for almost every product you can name, there is a range of quality, from high to low, and a market for every segment. So discussing quality is just a distraction.)

Also, the idea that newspapers need to reduce production and adjust to a shrinking market is to ask newspapers to go into a death spiral, to circle the drain. As a rule, institutions have to either stay at equillibrium or increase/grow to stay alive. Shrinking is almost never a viable option (emphasis on "viable").

To say that "change is coming" may be true...but it isn't very helpful, nor does it tell us what to do about it.

Historically, storytelling has never been very profitable, no matter the medium or the era, from cavemen to now. Very few storytellers ever make much money, and in fact they are notoriously poor wretches throughout history.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Somehow, the Financial Times and New Scientist run mostly by-subscription web services. Neither's a mass-market newspaper, of course.

The New Yorker's online replica of their magazine seems mainly to allow subscribers to get their eyes on the content despite slow mail delivery (it can take a week for the magazine to get here).

I haven't figured out how much of the Economist is subscription-only. They, too, suffer the problem of trying to distribute hot news via slow mail. Someone should set up a cheap tiffin wallah system for delivering magazines while they're still warm and fresh. Maybe the same service could handle pizza deliveries, Indian take-out, and bento lunches.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | April 6, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

The NYT charged for access to it's columnists because they had them on an exclusive basis. The problem wasn't substitution. I guess we just weren't into them.

Mudge, I don't see how ed deserved the rocket you sent him.

Posted by: Boko999 | April 6, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Yay, LA Lurker! Hope you have a great time!

Posted by: seasea1 | April 6, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

You may be right, boko.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Radon gas is a precursor due to stress release beneath the earth that releases trapped/stored gas.

I too miss Slate on paper and only read the web version when it's linked by someone else.

But the problem is people are focused on content but ignore the primary drivers - comics, cartoons, crosswords, sports events, and front page corner ads as worked well in papers before.

Posted by: WillSeattle | April 6, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Breaking news at the NYT - The AP and member newspapers will take legal action against Web sites using newspaper articles without legal permission, "in a clear shot at aggregators like Google."

They listen to Joel! They read the Boodle!
Or, great minds are finally thinking alike.

Nice job y'all, particularly bc & curmudgeon. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of Curmudgeon & Ed the Futurist. Serendipity.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 6, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

curmudgeon-1,

Couldn't agree more regarding the sales, leadership side of the equation. Of course, it's heresy to suggest that the value of a product is sometimes lost at the top of an organizational chain. On the other hand, the Kaplan acquisition is what keeps the paper running, so someone is earning their due at least with reference to that acquisition.

If a website is generating 1 to 3 million unique visits a day -- there's clearly an audience for the product; and in all likelihood there's a smaller audience within that universe that's willing to pay for the product provided the price is right.

If the market research is well done, then the data should spell out what the available options are. If the data collection and analysis stink, then the business model is likely to proceed haphazardly.

If the online product isn't profitable and is operating at a net loss, then why is the Washington Post offering an online version of its newspaper?

If its the off-line version that's bleeding why not charge a premium for the paper and transition to the web?

If both are bleeding -- that's not good.

I'm curious about the market research too. I have to think that the decision to cancel the TV Week section and the other cut backs were based on reader information (the cut backs to content made sense). However, what is the marketing research like for the online audience?

The business plan is only going to be as good as the consumer research.

Posted by: JPRS | April 6, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Comparing the demise of printed newspapers to Darwin's theory of evolution is fraught with many problems. First Darwin's theory is typically applied to living species (you know birds, fish, mammals). Darwin's theory is also subject to considerable modern scientific challenges. So using Darwin's theory of evolution, even though it is still taught in most public schools, is not helpful in explaining the demise of printed newspapers. Most folks would likely agree that a newspaper is not a living species, but a publishing business.

Maybe another way to look at this is offered by Marshall McLuhan, who wrote and published a book about Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man. IN his book, McLuhan pointed out that some media are "hot", like movies, because they intensify the sense of sight (pretty pictures) and hearing (emotional music). Print media (like newspapers) were considered "cool", because newspapers require much more conscious reader participation to extract value.

By way of example, think about watching a movie like Slumdog Millionaire. This movie was an intense emotional roller coaster. It shows graphic torture set to high-energy music - a winning Hollywood formula for ticket sales.

On the other hand, how many people read the Wall Street Journal for some accounting of our economic meltdown? Reading the WSJ requires more effort from subscribers to find something that is of value (you know like a working investment strategy).

But I think the bottom line is, reading the news on the web is more interesting than a "cool" newspaper. Where else can you see cute little movies of Miley Cyrus?

Some deride "news as entertainment"; but TV programs like "Face the Nation" or "60 Minutes" seem to be succeeding. So my prescription for newspapers is simple: use more movies to present your news stories. Have you "news guys" heard of You Tube? IN other words, jump on the "information super-hiway". It is mo' betta.

Posted by: rmorris391 | April 6, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps it's all merely the loss of Dear Abby and Ann Landers.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 6, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I think Slate works nicely.

Beyond this, I have no comment on this gloom n doom about the news industry.

I think 24/7 CNN did more to kill newspapers than the internet, myself. It was just a slower, lingering death.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 6, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Well, text has its role. I never watch the video crud on the WaPo site, because it's not captioned and does not have transcripts. Blind people feel similarly, I'm sure.

While quality may not matter so much, consistency does. People like to know what they're getting when they click on a link. Nobody wants to click on and accidentally watch a 5 to 20-minute clip when they're just looking for a quick news story.

I like YouTube for entertainment but I jolly well don't watch it for news. I stopped watching TV news long ago when it went down the tubes in 2000.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | April 6, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, if quality of product is not material to business (news or otherwise), then why do newsrooms - or any other writers for that matter - need editors?

Also - we should dissuade young people from writing news stories professionally, as they're destinted to be notoriously poor wretches?

OK, ok, I'll stop yankin' yer chain.

I would also note that much of what I re-posted there was Boodling from nearly four years ago.

And I don't think we're any closer to answering the quesion now than we were then.

bc

Posted by: -bc- | April 6, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

bc, the existence of editors have nothing to do with quality (god knows, I am a living examply of that!). Editors don't exist to raise quality, they exist to regulate it-- very different. Even my favorite rag, the (defunct) Weekly World News needed editors.

No, you shouldn't dissuade young people from going into industries that pay slave wages, otherwise there'd be no schoolteachers, poets, boatbuilders, nval architects, traveling troubadors, policemen, firefighters, origami instructors, ballet performers, oboe players, etc.

You should only dissuade them if you want them to be able to raise families and pay the bills.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

You are prescient, bc. Three and a half years ago you recognized the problem!

I never knew Slate had a paper edition.

Maybe the solution is that the aggregators have to pay the content providers. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I'd pay for access to WaPo.com.

Would that put Drudge out of business? Personally, I'm okay with that.

Posted by: slyness | April 6, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

An besidz, sumbodie has to korrek the speling.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

But Mudj, that was purfekly kleer - eksept for the "speling" wich I thot wuz sum kinda kave thing.

Therz a fine line between bad spelling and the orijins of English. Remember the charming variashuns as late as Shakespeer? Or "l8t" as the Boy might type.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 6, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Now see, this is what I simply don't understand about the WaPo op-ed staff: WTF are they leading the op-ed section with William Kristol for? It's bad enough they even have to carry morons like Kristol, Will, Krauthammer, etc., for the sake of "diversity of opinion." But why actually lede your section with your most-despised columnist?

[Right now, he's at the top of the list on the front page.]

I don't even understand the marketing concept of having those rightwing idiots on the payroll in the first place. Conservatives have the Washington Times at hand if they want conservative coumnists and opinion.

I have never understood why the Post plays that game, instead of seding that territory to the Times. They constantly risk aggravating and annoying their base at the expense of a market share they can never win in the first place.

Every editor knows you're supposed to lead with your strongest stuff, not the stuff that pisses off your most reliable readers.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

curmudgeon,
your list of badly paid jobs should include the shaping and glassing of surfboards. Brevard County (the "space coast") is stuffed with underappreciated craftsmen. Perhaps the most atmospheric workshop is Nielson's, just north of Patrick AFB, occupying a tiny little house on the ocean, complete with an untended swath of natural vegetation in back, complete with the butterflies you won't see hanging around manicured condos.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | April 6, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Wilbrod in seeing a role for text, even for those with full access to video. Text I can skim. I can get the main point, and then I can read more in depth if I want. I can read a little now and easily stop and read a little more later. Video takes as long as it takes (which is much longer than I can read the same info). I don't usually want to take that long.

And besides, from the outside, reading looks more like working than watching videos does.

Posted by: -bia- | April 6, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Ivansmom, are you feeling better? Because we've all be empathizing and suffering along with you and poor Frosty. As Shriek noted the other day, we've kilt off about 20 chickens to fax you guys your chikin soup.

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | April 6, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, I'm better now. I appreciated the soop. I've had two tiny but recognizable meals in the last 24 hours, so all is well. The general consensus seems to be that I had a mild case of the flu. I won't argue. Whatever it was, I don't want it back.

Posted by: Ivansmom | April 6, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Achenblog, your assertion about consumers ruining your newspaper is outrageous: "Sure, the consumer rules. But the consumer has been given a confusing choice: You can read it on paper for a price, or you can read it on the Web for free. Only in the fine print does it say that if you choose the rational second option you will destroy the business model that supports the journalism to begin with. "

With this kind of "logic" GM would still be in business selling HUMMERS and YUKONS -- well known GAS HOGS, and destroyers of the green.

No consumer is interested in "supporting" an out dated business model. I remember when I was boy growing up in a typical small town. When K-Mart muscled into the retail space, many "traditional business owners" cried wolf.

Get over it, the web as news media is here to stay. Where else can you see those cute movies of Miley Cyrus?

Posted by: rmorris391 | April 6, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

"As long as people keep birds as pets, raise puppies and drink coffee, there will always be places in this world for newspapers."

bc, Don Asmussen begs to differ in this recent edition of "Bad Reporter" on the SF Chronicle's website: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/27/DDASMUSSENBR.DTL

Posted by: byoolin1 | April 6, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"No consumer is interested in "supporting" an out dated business model. I remember when I was boy growing up in a typical small town. When K-Mart muscled into the retail space, many "traditional business owners" cried wolf."

Well, rmorris, if your small town is anything like mine - or any one of a few thousand around the country, I'd say - your downtown is now mostly empty while you and your neighbours drive to the megalomall outside the city limits to where your kids work at minimum wage McJobs.

So it's not all win-win-win, is it?

Posted by: byoolin1 | April 6, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Say, Mudge, is there any chikin soup left over? While I do feel much better (although people who have heard me speak today think I still sound congested, which I probably do), I think I now have a low grade fever (just over the line enuf to make one feel cranky), and I'm not feeling terrific. Dang! (waiting for the Tylenol to kick in)

Other than that, I ordered my two favorite Eva Cassidy CDs yesterday from Amazon. I'm going to send them to a friend in Stockholm who sent me the Mamma Mia CD in Swedish. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what Eva Cassidy could have done had she lived. What she did while she was alive was spectacular.

And, so, perhaps a tiny nap to speed those antibodies along towards a cure of this current crud. Hope frosti is well on her way to wellness, and pleased that Ivansmom is on the right path, too.

Later. . . .

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | April 6, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

New Kit!

Posted by: seasea1 | April 6, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

New kit

Posted by: dmd2 | April 6, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Curmudgeon,
"And these new forms will be created by...um...who exactly? They will be owned and controlled by...uh...who, exactly? Giant multinational corporations? Bill Gates? The spawn of Bill Gates? Well, see, we don't know. But it will all be OK."

I hate to tell you but the news is already owned by large corporations and the internet, like moveable type press before it, has made news and opinion much more egalitarian. I don't know what forms news gathering will take but as long as there is a market for it, it will get done. As far as resisting change, you will be run over. The future, good or bad, will have its way. Things will not stay the same as in our past.

Posted by: edbyronadams | April 6, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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