TechCrunch published my column today declaring: Print is dead.
I am not the first to say it. (Read what John Paton, CEO of MediaNews Group told a conference of journalists earlier this month, this report The Annenberg School published in January, and this blog post Clay Shirky published over the summer. There are a host of others.)
I wrote the post, because the fact is print as we know it – as in newspapers and magazines delivered by truck and humans to homes and newsstands, as in old guard companies in which the primary source of revenue is derived from publishing text and photos on plant pulp – is over; and the big print media companies are not doing enough, and moving fast enough to ensure their futures.
A few big print companies will survive in the paperless future, and a small handful may even prosper. It’s likely that standard bearers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which benefit from positions as undisputed papers-of-record and still employ a few smart people will adapt. The Economist with its multi-platform juggernaut, resurgent brand and own really really smart people might evolve into a superlative new media company. And even Hearst, with its portfolio approach to digital investment may turn into the quintessential content company of the future (…or maybe a really successful venture fund and investment house, not bad either).
In the past week more, clear and present signs have popped-up, each revealing some of the sources of Old Print’s cloudy future:
The old media mindset is forcing way too much reliance on the PAYWALL as savior.
Gannett’s $100M plan to set-up paywalls in all 80 of its local newspaper markets made big news, as did yesterday’s paywall announcement from LA Times. These are big bets driven by industry-wide ego (that people “must pay” for what we do), and a mad dash to copy mild successes like The New York Times and others. But the fact remains: It is incredibly hard if not impossible, to get users to pay real dollars in a completely commoditized market. What the $.99 song is to the music industry, the paywall is to print.
Further commoditization, and fragmentation.
Pressly – With the launch of its self-serve platform that transforms WordPress sites, Tumblr blogs and Twitter updates into beautiful tablet friendly presentations is completely commoditizing the magazine – its form factor, and its content. Pressly now turns anyone’s content into an iPad app that looks just as good as the big magazine companies’ flashy new bespoke apps. And with a fancy – and free – shell, Jane Blogger is now competing head-to-head with the best and highest paid writers and editors.
Industry-wide fear and self-loathing.
Onswipe – With the release of its cross-publisher content recommendations just revealed its ambition, and is starting to steal business from its partners, companies like Ziff Davis, Slate, Thomson Reuters, NY Times and Conde Nast, by rockin’ a classic 90’s dotcom move: We (Onswipe) will provide you (publishers) a service that you can’t seem to figure out, and build our own platform/network off the backs of your content while we’re at it. Rad. Onswipe is preying on the old guard’s fear of the future, its rush to tablets, and its self-doubt that it can build great apps and interactive experiences internally.
Paleolithic technology, and no respect for the right data.
Poynter smartly rang the bell feeling it was necessary to tell publishers Buzzfeed is a “real news site.” Yes, it is. It’s a news website and it’s the future. Buzzfeed is data driven, and it knows in a real and provable way what its readers want – and it’s growing like gangbusters. As HuffPo proved – and as the history of digital media keeps proving again and again – data rules. Data is how you find audience. Data is how you retain it. Sure, old guard websites deploy analytics to track usage patterns on the sites themselves, but they are missing the boat on analyzing the important stuff – share, search and social – to inform their edit and product decisions.
Print people are confused about what’s valuable, and most don’t do digital.
Vogue is making much ballyhoo of the fact it has decided digitize its archives and make them available on the Web – and searchable by Google boot! Of course, Vogue should do this. They should have done it a dog year ago – think about all of that lost SEO – but it’s a web 1.0 tactic, and no big deal. The announcement just shows how behind the times they are.
With all of that said, there were some bright spots too:
Spin launched a it’s new site, embracing a “digital first” strategy, and showing signs it is starting to think more about its digital products – and it looks pretty good – though it’s just scratching the surface.
The Washington Post started dabbling publicly with personalized news.
PBS’s Mediashift published a good, if belated, piece about teaching future journalists to think agnostically about the format of their reportage.
New Yorker editor David Remnick sat down with Kara Swisher at the WSJ to talk about digital and the future of his magazine.
For a roadmap to old print’s new digital future, read my original post on TechCrunch.