August 2005 Archives
August 14, 2005
Jason Pontin wrote a post responding to this piece that had been written after a speech Jason made. Was Jason, an editor of a print magazine, declaring that print was dead? Well, he backs off a bit in the post. But the bigger challenge to print publications, IMO, if less the "print" side than the "publication" side. Don't get me wrong, the economics of print are very tough--and getting tougher. But print is a comfortable form factor and there continues to be a much bigger market for advertising in print than online--and I'm not holding my breath for digital ink just yet.
A more interesting question is: what is the future of the publication? We've been bundling content up in publications for millennia now, and they too are here for good (I'm not here predicting the end of books), but one of the big advantages of publications had to do with economics of distribution which is radically changed since Guttenberg. We got used to the constraints of packaging media in publications and even trained ourselves to think that some of these restrictions were attributes. How else to explain why the reverence for the editor who may spend as much time figuring out what to leave out of a publication as what to leave in--and who spends considerable effort generalizing pieces so they will be less interesting to YOU and more broadly applicable. I'm not down on editors--they do what they have to do. But what they have to do is make a piece of content generalized enough for their audience, because their publications are one-to-many.
As Chris Anderson, editor of the print publication Wired, wrote: "For too long we've been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare, subjected to brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop. Why? Economics. Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching - a market response to inefficient distribution."
Publications have their value, but they are no longer the only game in town, and economics for content outside the bounds of the publication are improving. People are back to buying songs, not just albums. We are viewing more clips, rather than full shows. Podcasts, rather than radio broadcasts. And as media expands from lecture to conversation, the mode of communication that's even older than the publication re-emerges: discourse.
Cliched memes though they may be, I like stuff coming from the long tail discussion leader Chris Anderson. This post is worth reading, if you haven't already--and the graphics useful, though simple. I'd modify his second image slightly, because 1) I prefer thinking of it as "value per consumer," which is explicitly subjective, rather than "quality" which I believe is intended to be "quality in the eyes of the consumer" in the original chart, but sounds objective. 2) I suspect, though I can't prove, that the BEST value per user is to be found in the tail, rather than the head. That is, the more you personalize, the more narrowly it is distributed but the greater value per user.