Posted by Deliverator on March 5th, 2009
It looks like The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper which has been in existence for some 137 years is likely to close up shop within a few weeks time, or be cut back to the extent that they are no longer recognizable. It is likely that some web-only presence will remain, but print runs will cease and employment will be decimated. It is not entirely unlikely that the Seattle Times will fold in the not too distant future as well. Old media, for a large variety of reasons is facing tough times and I have a tough time finding pity for them. They have been all too slow to adapt to changing times and quite simply don’t get the power and opportunities of The Internet. Most of the traditional newspaper’s online presences merely ape the appearance of the dead tree edition and do little to leverage the power of the web. To them, it is just another delivery mechanism (a series of tubes, perhaps?) to deliver the same content in the same top down, one way, non-interactive fashion. Fundamentally, not only are content providers having a difficult time figuring out how to make money on the web, they are having as much of a problem figuring out how the web can save them money.
I recently read a back of the napkin analysis that suggested that amortized over the period of a few years, it would be cheaper for The New York Times to buy all their readers a Kindle than to print and deliver them a daily dead tree edition. I would be very interested in media producers subsidizing the high cost of a Kindle II or similar device in order to get their content in front of consumer eyeballs. Somehow, I suspect that the NYT will keep on moving dead trees around till their dying day and their online presence will remain shrouded behind a pay wall or login prompt, increasingly making them irrelevant to broad public discourse on the day’s events.
Today, I was listening to a podcast of an episode of This American Life. Ira Glass, the show’s host, came on at the beginning of the Podcast to talk about how the Podcast is costing the station something like $150,000 a year in bandwidth bills. This American Life’s solution to their budget problem was to beg the public for money. I feel profoundly disinclined to cough up my hard earned when something as simple as providing an optional torrent feed of their show in parallel to their existing feed would greatly diminish those costs. Other nationally syndicated radio shows have already demonstrated that this can work and it basically costs them nothing to provide. This American Life has a large and rabid fan base and I would gladly pitch in a few bucks to make my commute more interesting if the Ira Glass was asking his listeners to please click on a this link rather than that link in order to help save them money.
There is a lot of Old Media I like and I am more than a little nostalgic about a lot of it, but I am also very excited about the new forms and directions that media is taking and in the end, there are only so many minutes in the day and bucks in my pocket. I will chose the options that are broadly accessible, usable and convenient to me and avoid ones which require me to jump through hoops, utilize special software or proprietary devices and try to substitute some pseudo-form of rental instead of real ownership upon me. Culture has become broad enough that when faced with even the slightest inconvenience the modern media consumer can simply swerve towards some other shiny thing.