As the newspaper industry continues to spiral down, looking for signs of a bottom are not yielding much. For example, arguably the best paper in the US - The New York Times - demonstrates how to avoid future existence: never leave the past.
Some at the Times anticipated this tectonic shift years ago, but Arthur wasn’t listening. Despite lip service about change, he presides over a slow-moving beast. Diane Baker, who was regarded as an energetic and forceful outsider, ran up against this in her years as C.F.O. When she took the job, in 1995, she was shocked to discover that the company was still doing all its accounting by hand. “They literally did not have the ability to produce spreadsheets,” she says. “They had not invested in the software you need to analyze data. It is a company run by journalists. The Sulzbergers are journalists at their core, not businessmen.”
Her biggest disappointment came when she crafted a potentially lucrative partnership with Amazon.com, already the biggest bookseller on the Internet. The Times would link all the titles reviewed in the paper’s prestigious Sunday Book Review section, ordinarily a money drain, to the online bookseller and receive a percentage on every book sold. “We could have made the Book Review into a big source of revenue,” she recalls. Baker knew that Amazon.com planned to eventually sell everything under the sun, to become the first digital supermarket. Not only would the deal have produced revenue from book sales, it would also have cemented a partnership with a tremendous future. She envisioned the newspaper as a virtual merchandising machine. Instead of the old carpet-bombing model of advertising, it would in effect target ads to readers of specific stories. “You know what they said?,” Baker recalls. “They said, We can’t do it, because Barnes & Noble is a big advertiser.” [More]
Which leads to parodies like this, which are too close to reality for comfort.
Nor is the magazine industry going unchallenged. In fact, new technology could alter the nature of publishing magazines immensely.
For anyone who has dreamed of creating his own glossy color magazine dedicated to a hobby like photography or travel, the high cost and hassle of printing has loomed as a big barrier. Traditional printing companies charge thousands of dollars upfront to fire up a press and produce a few hundred copies of a bound magazine.
With a new Web service called MagCloud, Hewlett-Packard hopes to make it easier and cheaper to crank out a magazine than running photocopies at the local copy shop.
Charging 20 cents a page, paid only when a customer orders a copy, H.P. dreams of turning MagCloud into vanity publishing’s equivalent of YouTube. The company, a leading maker of computers and printers, envisions people using their PCs to develop quick magazines commemorating their daughter’s volleyball season or chronicling the intricacies of the Arizona cactus business. [More]
The more stories I read like this the more I suspect we are in for a less-than-pleasant period of turmoil in the information business. What is most surprising to me is the intractability of the much of the publishing industry to even considering change.
One hint I have found: one of my customers processes special corn to extract starch for paper manufacture, especially newsprint and cardboard.
Papermakers essentially stopped buying a year ago, according to their sales staff.