Well Dressed Frogs in Hot Water

Most chiefs of newspaper corporations like to think of themselves as princes of industry. However, they really are well-dressed frogs.

Last month, Bertrand Pecquerie, Director of the World Editors Forum, related an analogy about the newspaper industry, as told by Michael Ringier, president of the Ringier publishing group, who publishes magazines and newspapers in Switerland.

Ringier said that if a frog is thrown into a pan containing boiling water, it will react to the sudden change in temperature and jump out of the pan; but if the frog is put into a pan of cold water that is gradually warmed up, it doesn’t get sufficiently alarmed and dies from the heat.

Ringier explained that he would prefer if the first case had occurred to the newspaper industry, but that industry’s perennial drops of one to two percent in circulation each year, in developed countries and mature markets, is more similar to the second case.

I would like to meet Michael Ringier because he clearly sees the problem. Unfortunately, most of the newspaper corporation presidents (mainly Americans and Canadians) whom I’ve met claim that there are no such problems in this industry, that the industry isn’t really in hot water, and that the increasing revenues that they’ve been able to extract from their declining circulations are somehow proofs of a healthy industry. I think those revenues are merely proofs that they and their stockholders will be well dressed at the funeral for the industry.