Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Explaining the current evolution in media

Evolution is too civilized a term for what is happening today in all media. Unless your printed publication is important to some kind of specialized audience, e.g., photographers, gardeners or some other niche market, it's pretty much dead or dying. Magazines I used to pay $40 or $50 a year for are now offered to me for only $10 annually. Folio, the bible of the magazine publishing world, continues to report on dramatically declining newsstand sales, exacerbating subscription losses. If a publication hasn't already moved into the digital world, for tablets, laptops, e-readers, or are in the process of moving, it won't be able to maintain relevancy.

Even conventional TV is trying to define its audience and hold onto it. Local news operations are operationally restructuring, ostensibly to reduce expenses. Stations are cutting muscle when they require TV reporters to be their own camera person. The money problems of this medium surprise me because commercial TV packs-in seemingly endless streams of commercials at every break; likewise with the cable channels (far more so than in days of yore).

Talk radio, however, seems to be healthy and, like radio has done since its Golden Age, the medium has morphed itself into something new. It has always found it easier to adapt to change. At least radio seems to have found a way to remain both relevant and financially viable.

So, how does a student of media make any sense of all this? Why have these changes come about; where's it all going? Thankfully, someone has pulled all this together and gives us a concise and understandable picture of why media landed where it's at. From his easy-to-follow narrative, one may find a road map to the future, very important for young people trying to find the vines in this new jungle. The goal, of course, is to get a job somewhere in the media world, current or emerging.

This tool has been provided by John Naughton in a book entitled From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Distruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet, published by Quercus, New York/London, in 2012. Naughten explains what happened to newspapers. He writes that, when the web arrived, "...newspapers thought the main threat it posed would come from online news distributed for free. They were wrong: it turned out that the bigger threat was to the profitable part of their value chain--classified advertisements. This is because what the Internet does is dissolve value chains." Come to think about it, that's exactly what happened.

Naughton, vice president of Wolfson College, Cambridge, England, provides hundreds of insights like the one I pointed out. He deeply understands what happened, why it happened and where it seems to be going. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a student of media, whether young or life-long, like myself.

For more information about this book and/or to order a copy in print or for your Kindle, click on the Amazon link below: