Traditional Media: Will the World End in Fire or Ice?

July 12, 2008

Search systems index content. In the hoary past, name brand magazines, journals, and tabloids were the sources of choice. With the Guardian paying $30 million for a Web log, established media companies like the Guardian Media Group still have some fight in them. You can read the many views on this $30 million deal from on BoomTown here. Word smither-ette par excellence Kara Swisher provides the meat that fattens many Web content recyclers like moi. I enjoyed PaidContent.org’s coverage of itself here. One sentence stuck in my short term memory as a nice summary of how a big outfit perceives itself:

We’re not keen on strategic investing because my position is very much a GMG – Guardian Media Group – view of the world, which is that with strategic investments and minority share holdings… you can’t really drive anything … you don’t really feel like it’s part of you and they can take up a lot of time and they can take a lot of trouble and you don’t have much impact.

Almost over looked was some other news about traditional media. My favorite dead trees’ publication–the New York Times–published Richard Pérez-Peña’s essay “In Deepening Ad Decline, Sales Fall 8% at Magazines.” You can read the full text here. I don’t need to quote a sentence or two. The headline says it all.

My take on the sale of PaidContent.org is that it is great news for the owners. My take on traditional news and magazine publishing companies is that these outfits are a bit like sheep. Now that a couple of sheep are moving, the rest of the sheep will follow. Their smooth-talking business development managers will be the sheep dogs to keep the herd together and the skeptics away.

Well, too late for me. When the dust from Web log acquisition settles, the traditional newspapers and magazine companies will still be rolling up their pants and pantsuits as the red ink rises. Owning a Web log is not the same thing as making it work in a traditional publishing company’s business model.

Agree? Disagree? (Remember I used to work at a newspaper company and a large New York publishing outfit.) Data are more useful than sending me questions in a personal email (seaky 2000 @ yahoo dot com) or calling me and working really hard to change my mind.

Data make it clear: odds of long-term success in a Webby world are long. Bet on the Cubs instead.

Stephen Arnold, July 12, 2008

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