In “Print is the new ‘new media’” (Columbia Journalism Review, December 7, 2015), we are told that print journalism is alive and well and even coming back:
Now, 20 years into the digital revolution, print is making something of a comeback. Tablet, Politico, and The Pitchfork Review are among the successful digital publications that have ventured into print. Nautilus, Kinfolk, and California Sunday Magazine have launched in print in the last few years, and their audiences are passionate and growing.
This doesn’t sound like the whole story to me. The hard numbers tell a different tale, for example:
Consumer magazine revenue will return to growth in 2016. After a number of years of decline, driven by a reduction in print circulations, global total consumer magazine revenue will see a 0.2% increase in 2016 driven by strong digital performances. Yet growth will remain small at a 0.2% CAGR to 2019, with print circulation and advertising revenue continuing to decline. (PWC,a professional services network)
One reason for decline or near zero growth is that hard news is now a commodity, as the Economist said in 2012:
It is increasingly instant, constant and commoditised (as with oil or rice, consumers do not care where it came from). With rare exceptions, making money in news means publishing either the cheap kind that attracts a very large audience, and making money from ads, or the expensive kind that is critical to a small audience, and making money from subscriptions. Both are cut-throat businesses; in rich countries, many papers are closing.
Or else getting rescued by high-tech billionaires and millionaires. The Washington Post was sold to Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2013. The historic New Republic (founded 1914) was sold to a Facebook co-founder in 2012 and is for sale again in 2016:
“I bought this company nearly four years ago to ensure its survival and give it the financial runway to experiment with new business models in a time of immense change in media,” he said in a letter to his staff that he also posted on the website Medium. “After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic.”
Putting the best face on things, Advertising Age tells us,
Traditional media companies will continue to feel a financial squeeze over the next four years, as flat or declining revenues are expected at magazine and newspaper publishers even as they post gains in digital advertising and subscriptions, a new report shows.
Consumer magazine revenue will be essentially flat this year at nearly $24.6 billion compared with 2014, according to the annual Global Entertainment and Media Outlook from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was released on Tuesday. It will climb to approximately $24.7 billion by 2019, PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted.
In short, print media are no longer a paying proposition. So what are they?
Well, back to Columbia Journalism Review‘s piece on the new print edition of an online magazine dedicated to Jewish culture, Tablet (founded 2009):
Tablet’s print edition is substantial, in size and quality: The pages are artful, the text is generously spaced. The first issue contains three hefty features, including a story on a Japanese manga-style comic about Anne Frank, plus a photography spread, a work of fiction, and a meditation on a Saltine. Tablet’s website receives around 1.5 million readers a month, and the first edition had a print run of 15,000.
“Some of our best content deserves to be on the newsstand or on someone’s coffee table for a while,” says Mark Oppenheimer, Tablet’s editor at large. You can reach more people online, he says, but at what cost? He points to a feature in the magazine by Brett Ratner about the role of Miami Beach Jews in the birth of “modern American cool” after World War II, introduced by a memorable full-color double-page photo of beachgoers. “A perspective-altering piece is worth more for 10,000 in print than as a brief distraction for 100,000 online,” says Oppenheimer.
“Deserves to be on a coffee table”?
It sounds exemplary as an art, a craft, but not media in the usual sense. That makes sense. Old media rarely die out altogether. Radio dramas can still be classics. Latin survives as mottoes. Print media will survive as period pieces and collectors’ items.
The critical question is, how well are new media assuming the critical role of the “fourth estate”? The news isn’t very good, especially where issues like censorship on behalf of government, catering to fashionable crybullies, or tolerance of fakery is concerned.
The best hope one can offer is that it is early days yet.
See also: Decision time for Facebook: Censor or no? But on whose behalf does the social media giant censor?
Old media doesn’t get new media It is called the internet, not the innernet for a reason.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.
Hat tip: Bioethics.com