The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Free Fall

The media revolution accelerates.

The other day I felt a twinge of sadness to see a former Local Buzz box sitting lonely and abandoned on Main Street in Northampton.

This Buzz box in Amherst appears to have been taken over by another publication.

Now Local Buzz is found exclusively online, where they are doing a great job. Their specialty appears to be the stories other miss, or at least the angle they missed, and often with humorous results. For example, when the Amherst Committee for Excellence sent out a recent letter demanding higher academic standards in the public schools, Local Buzz pointed out that they appeared to have less than excellent standards for their own writing.

As I said before, Local Buzz is lucky to have been banished to cyberspace. It's a bit like being banished to Beverly Hills, that's where you should want to be anyway. The importance of focusing on cyberspace over all other media platforms was reinforced by this news item released last week:

According to new data released by the Newspaper Association of America, total print advertising revenue in 2007 plunged 9.4% to $42 billion compared to 2006 — the most severe percent decline since the association started measuring advertising expenditures in 1950.

Internet ad revenue in 2007 grew 18.8% to $3.2 billion compared to 2006.

So advertising on cyberspace is soaring at the same time it is plummeting in print media. You don't have to have a crystal ball to conclude that if the trend of ten percent losses per year continue, then print media has a life expectancy of less than ten years. Either today's print publications establish themselves as companies making the bulk of their money online within the next few years, or they'll be going out of business.

Every print publication that wants to survive needs to make their webpage their number one priority. The only legitimate purpose their printed version now serves is to finance their transition to the net. But that revenue is falling fast, so speed is of the essence.

What's interesting is that the traditional media didn't see and react to their demise sooner. The internet dates back to the 1960's when the government first developed the basic concept for military purposes. The idea was that there would need to be a way to communicate after all the telephone poles and radio towers had been knocked down in a nuclear war. If computers could interconnect, forming a world wide net, then communication would still be theoretically possible even after they dropped the Big One.

As it turned out, the nukes were never dropped, but the internet the military created found its uses. The first onboard, not surprisingly, were scientists, who found that it was easier and faster to communicate with their colleagues around the world by mailing them electronically via the internet. E-mail made it possible to unite the scientific community as never before.

Next onboard were the extremists - the Nazi's, the Maoists, the Flat Earthers and other kooks who couldn't get their message out any other way. It become obvious that this medium, which was global and therefore not restricted by the laws of any government, could be a platform for ideas that could find no expression elsewhere.

One of the most desired and restricted commodities is sex, and the unregulated internet became fertile ground for something that had previously been taboo - pornography. In fact you could actually sell it online. Some people hate to admit it, but the first successful business model online was the distribution and selling of pornography.

Despite all the scientific knowledge, extremist politics and hot porn to be found online, the audience for it all remained very small. The problem was you had to be a real geek to access any of it. The hardware was expensive, but the real barrier was that carrying out the simplest commands required the typing of lengthy codes. The average person was never going to become that geeky in order to come online.

Enter Bill Gates and his Windows. Some critics complain that he stole the software from companies he drove out of business, but the truth is however he got it Gates revolutionized the internet by replacing the lengthy command codes with simple icons you could click on. That meant that even a child could go online and do sophisticated research or create new content. Windows meant that cyberspace was no longer a restricted zone where only the technologically sophisticated could go. Cyberspace was for everybody.

The late 1990's and early 2000's were basically a period in which the colonization of cyberspace by regular people occurred. For the first time there was a real audience out there of millions of normal consumers and average citizens that you reach online. It was discovered that you could make good money online, selling everything from books to refrigerators. You could also raise money for political campaigns easier than ever before and could reach the electorate with low-cost candidate webpages.

But the real revolutionary possibilities lie in media. For one, the internet was not just another new addition to the media marketplace, instead it was the ultimate media. You could watch it, like TV. You could read it, like a newspaper or magazine. You could hear it like a radio. The internet was all known media rolled into one. How could something so superior to anything else not succeed?

Today it is obvious that the internet will eventually absorb all of the traditional and more primitive media into itself. Our grandchildren will be amazed that we once had a television in the living room and a computer in the den - because soon what we call "television" will merely be a section of the internet. So will radio. What we call newspapers will become information portals online.

Yet the economic model will be the same. Newspapers, TV and radio stations all make their money the same way. They offer material they feel will attract an audience, and then sell access to that audience to advertisers. It is the same in cyberspace. He who gets the most hits can charge the highest price and make the most money, exactly as it is today in traditional media.

So why was traditional media caught so flat-footed by the migration to cyberspace? Part of it is that the media profession was let down by the people who should have been on top of these changes. A certain luddite mentality prevailed that was partly the result of journalism schools who were staffed by technological illiterates who wasted their student's money by training them for a newsroom that no longer exists. The editors and managers in traditional media also failed to react in time because they were blinded by the traditions and status of their positions. The internet has made everyone a potential news reporter, radio jock or video star. Old media just didn't know how to react to this democratization of mass media access that had previously been reserved for a credentialed elite. "Who are these amateurs?" they cried, not recognizing the people who used to be called their audience.

Ironically, there is little for any current traditional media writer to fear about these changes. Anyone who can gather useful information and present it to an audience in a clear and concise way will always be in demand. In fact, there are more opportunities for writers online then there ever was in traditional media. For the most talented, cyberspace offers a chance to be free of corporate control and be liberated from the restrictions of working for a boss. If you've got the talent, go out and make your own audience and then cash in on the ads. No good writer needs to work for a company anymore if they don't want to.

However, the often cited problem is that internet advertising sells for less than print ads. But internet ads are superior in every way to print ads, and that is quickly becoming apparent to advertisers. If I buy a print ad I've got to pay for lots of ads nobody sees. For example if I'm selling fishing lures, I've got to pay for an ad in every one of the thousands of copies of The Springfield Republican to reach the hundreds of people who might buy my product. But online, my ad only appears on those sites where people interested in fishing go. Plus, I don't have to pay unless someone actually looks at my ad, and the internet provides the technology to enable me to actually see how many people looked at my ad and for how long. No more relying on inaccurate estimates or "ratings" based on surveys. The internet gives every advertiser an exact knowledge of how much of a bang they get for their buck.

The problem is the misguided sales departments of traditional media are still desperately trying to preserve their old revenue streams, even as it becomes obvious that they are drying up. Old media needs to sit down with their advertisers and educate them about the new market. They need to say to them something like, "Look, thanks for buying ads all these years, but you're wasting your money. You can get a lot more for your dollar advertising online and it will be better for your business if you transfer your ads to our website. We will be shutting down our printed publication soon anyway, so this way you'll be ahead of your competitors who are still wasting their money on traditional advertising."

But before that can happen, the old media has to admit to itself that its day is done, and that cyberspace offers them their only hope for survival. So far they seem determined to try to milk their old technology of printing presses and broadcasting towers to the bitter end, and for them the end will indeed be bitter.

Wow, I can't believe that my friend Hwei-Ling Greeney was defeated for re-election yesterday in the Amherst town election! It must have been that picture on her website of her posing with a zombie-like John Kerry that did her in!

The other candidate I supported, Stephanie O'Keefe, won but now everyone tells me I made a mistake because she's a flaming liberal. Perhaps I should have consulted Boss Kelley first. Here is O'Keefe looking like Big Brother in this Mary Carey photo.

Oh well, I supported her because she was a pioneering blogger. Therefore if she is a flaming liberal then hopefully she will be a transparent, blogging flaming liberal. It's a bad omen however, that her blog appears to be dead.


Mary E.Carey said...

Your history of Internet communications is so elegant.

sodafixer said...

Very interesting, good job Tom!

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, let’s hope the Big Shots that own the Springfield Republican can find a way to keep Local Buzz buzzing along. With only a cyber footprint it most certainly has a cheaper overhead than all that messy printing and distributing of heavy material that comes from trees Amherst folks so love to hug.

The Net was born out of Doomsday and has grown into the communication revolution that has ushered us into the 21’centtury. As the Dinosaurs discovered a few million years ago, adapt or die (or try to avoid those damn meteors)

Speaking of Doomsday, my very first notification on THAT awful morning came via an AOL Instant Message, something I usually declined.

I had just posted a flaming message to the Gazettenet forum (that at the time was way more popular than the Masslive Amherst forum) about the ‘Only in Amherst’ anti-flag events from the Select Board meeting the night before.

I accepted the call (AOL used to open a pop up in your top left corner of the screen saying “Do you wish to accept this I.M. from so and so) because I knew he lived in Boston and thought—since the Select board meeting had made the AP wire in the pre dawn hours of 9/11--that it had to do with little old Amherst.

He sent the text message “Are you near a TV?” I responded, “Flags in Amherst?” No he came back instantly “A plane impaled the North Tower of the World Trade Center”.

I responded “Holy shit!” Again he came back: “Make that two--another one just hit the South Tower.” I said, “I gotta go”. Only then did I speed home to turn on the TV and see those searing images. My God!

Fast forward and look at Gazettenet now. They have been in cyberspace forever in Internet time (over ten years) but this new major revision is a disaster. They launched on February 20 and claimed the beta version would be fully in place within a week and here we are almost six weeks later and they still rely on the previous build.

The blogs are a joke. Chief editor Foudy posted once on Feb 20 and has not updated since.

Newspapers of New England recently purchased The Gazette and Valley Advocate and the new publisher Aaron Julien (who married the President’s daughter) has no journalism experience whatsoever. Unfortunately for me he moved to Amherst (like a lot of carpetbaggers) and his wife has been politically active in ACE the pro-education group that doesn’t know how to spell.

The Gazette spent millions installing a new color printer and constructing a giganormous (ugly as Hell) building to keep it out of the rain in their headquarters in Hamp and they recently acquired a subsidy from the taxpayers in the form of a $630,000 state tax credit.

And not so surprisingly the Amherst Bulletin (also under the control of pretty-boy Julien) at the 11’th hour endorsed Stein and O’Keeffe just when their campaigns were starting to panic.

So yeah, in light of that last second meddling by the Bricks-and- Mortar Powers That Be, not so surprising that Hwei-Ling Greeney lost (although that pose with Kerry probably didn’t help…Yikes)

Eli said...

Stephanie's town meeting blog appears to be dead because town meeting isn't meeting right now. She has also written about how her blogs would have to change form if she were to get elected, so we'll see how that turns out...

LarryK4 said...

Well, she never did post the last night of Town Meeting (not that it was all that interesting) on her TM Experience blog and her Inamherst site changes about as often as the seasons in New England.

Why would her blogs have to change form when she gets elected? It's not like she gets paid for them OR for being an elected member of the illustrious Select board in the Peoples Republic of Amherst

Tony said...

You did it again, Tom. You took a multi layered, complex topic like the rise of the internet (and fall of print media), and packaged it for easy consumption and understanding. No one on the net does that better.

One thing though; I still like reading the newspaper in my hands. Maybe I'm a dinosaur, but I'd really hate to see it go. I'll probably keep buying them, as long as they keep printing them...