Heresy is the Advantage

 

At the turn of the millennia, Digital Deliverance LLC began publishing a paid-subscription printed newsletter (the recession later killed it). In retrospect, we can state it used a media business model of the waning Industrial Era to provide advice about the media business models of dawning Industrial Era. In other words, ‘this advice is a scarce commodity, so pay for it.’ The irony of that is that I, Vin Crosbie, and my consulting partner in Digital Deliverance, James Tailor, had become aware that a much larger change was underway in the media environment than people merely shifting their media consumption habits from printed periodical and over-the-air and cable broadcasts and to online. It wasn’t merely consumers ‘becoming wired’ or ‘hooked up’ or using ‘digital first’. It instead was something truly epochal yet hardly then or still perceived by the media industries or media academe.

The decade leading up to the turn of the millennia led to that a story. In 1993, I had begun working inside the newspaper industry to turn its future towards online, a multimedia and paperless future. James joined a consultancy I founded during 1996, and we began consulting full-time about that future. We and many others working in the media magazine industries believed that online would ensure and revolutionize those industries’ futures. Newspapers and magazines would be able to include animation, audio, and video, as well as interactivity, and would no longer be burdened by the expenses and travails of purchasing, printing, and distributing editions printed on paper and have that distribution limited by the delays of truck, rail, or airline deliveries. The networks and stations of radio and television would be able to provide texts and interactivity and well as audio and video, and would be able to broadcast online far beyond the ranges of their terrestrial antennae or cable arrangements. These technological and pan-geographic advantages should have led to much greater audiences for media organizations’ contents and thus much greater revenues than those industries had been earning from traditional forms of print or broadcasts. Yet James and I by 2000 had instead switched to being among the very few contrarians about that supposedly rosy future.

By the final years of the 20th Century, we had realized that attempting to transplant the traditional business models of newspapers, of magazines, of radio, and of television, into online would never work. Indeed, with rare exceptions, that newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, as we traditionally know each of those, are themselves doomed. That the centuries-long epoch of Mass Media was itself over (and that Mass Media would itself thus ironically become a ‘niche’). And we were beginning to see the reasons why all of that was occurring, and why these epochal changes had in fact begun three decades earlier. During 2004, I wrote a contrarian essay in Online Journalism Review titled What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do to Survive. I noted in it that the number of readers and the revenues of daily newspapers (and of general-interest magazines) in printed forms were declining much faster than new revenues from those periodicals’ website could be generated; that new revenues from websites hadn’t grown as had almost universally been forecast; that was no ‘missing’ business model that would ever be discovered to reverse those dire trends; and that a twilight was coming to the daily newspaper and magazine industries in the U.S. and other developed countries and soon to all that industry in all countries. My conclusions and warnings were scoffed at by those industries, which during 2004-2005 were earning record revenues despite steadily declining circulations. My heresy about the newspaper and magazine industries increasingly cost James and I large amounts of consulting business – partly because we cease advocating newspapers and magazine to transplant their traditional business models into online, and partly because the herd saw us as being now ‘out-of-touch’ with the momentum of the ‘digital first’ and other similar movements to continue that ever shoveling transplantation. Indeed, in 2006 when I was co-moderating (‘co-convener’ was the conference’s label for that job) an online journalism conference at the University of Massachusetts and had at the start of the conference given my overview of the problems besetting the news industry, my co-moderator, another consultant who was an avowed techno-utopian stunned me [and not just for the atrocious manners of this) by then stating, “Forget what Vin just said. None of that matters!”

Nevertheless, James (who died in 2015) and I genuinely believed the warnings and conclusions I had written in industry journals and had preached at industry conferences. (So genuinely that by 2004 I had convinced most of my family to sell the daily newspaper in Connecticut which my family had founded and published since 1877. Unfortunately, such a decision required unanimity on that decision, and there was one family member who wanted to delay any sale for several years. Yet by the delay requested, what I predicted for the industry had become real. We finally sold the newspaper during 2017, and for much less than it had been worth during 2004.)

Nowadays, it has become apparent that my conclusions and warnings about the collapse of the daily newspaper and general-interest magazine industries have proven true in the U.S. as well as in other developed countries and beginning to prove true in other countries. The U.S. newspaper industry, for example, has lost more than half of its annual revenues and nearly half it circulations during the years since I warned it. Its newsrooms’ ranks has shrunk likewise. I might have been contrarian, even heretical, but I was right.

If you’re wondering why attempts to transplant the traditional business models of newspapers, of magazines, of radio, and of television, into online will never work; why with rare exceptions, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, as we traditionally know each of those, are doomed; why the centuries-long epoch of Mass Media is over; and what will replace all of those, that is what the return of this renewed newsletter – as well as my postgraduate New Media Business course – is all about. (For those with no patience in this hectic new era, jump below directly to The Rise of Individuated Media for a start. A ‘start’ in both meanings of that English-language word.)

So, the time is right for Digital Deliverance LLC to reprise its newsletter. Those who years ago scoffed at our warnings that a twilight was coming to the daily newspaper and magazine industries in the U.S. and other developed countries and soon to all that industry in all countries no longer dare to do so lest they themselves be thought lost in fantasy.  The herd of supposed New Media experts  who had said our warnings were ‘out of touch’ or ‘don’t matter’ have been bitten by reality. Unlike Digital Deliverance’s old newsletter, the new will be in email form; it will be free subscription, rather than by paid subscription; and it will be weekly, rather than monthly. Our first public edition of this newsletter will appear during the second week of the new year (2019).

Meanwhile, we’ve begun already begun email publication of prototypes containing real contents. The first of six such weekly prototypes was emailed on Sunday to a limited number of people. These prototypes give us the ability to test the newsletter’s production software, subscription signup mechanisms, graphical design, etc., as well as gauge and fine-tune the time necessary to produce a different edition each week. If you’d like to be a subscriber to these six such prototypes, please send me an email.

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