The legacy fails
Newspapers remind me of stores that used to carry music CDs. As customers bought fewer CDs, stores carried fewer CDs, and so customers had fewer reasons to come to the store. The only stores today that still sell CDs in my hometown are Walmart and the independent Christian bookstore. The CDs that remain are not to my taste, so iTunes is my A&B Sound (western Canadian version of Tower Records).
Our local newspapers went the same route. We had two, each with two issues a week. One publishing chain bought the other, shut it down, and cut the pay to newspaper carriers to 9 cents per house. Last year, it used the coronavirus pandemic to reduce to one issue weekly, fat with advertising flyers.
Prior to the pandemic, it had eliminated the Letters to the Editor section; with the pandemic, it begged for donations to keep going, calling itself "your community paper," which it no longer was. With woke youngsters at the helm, the front page splashed one too many hit pieces on prominent local men and women, whose primary crime appeared to be their Christian faith. So, even though it is delivered free to my front door, I no longer read it, although I do use it to line the compost bucket.
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In an important article on the future of news, Martin Gurri talks about Andrey Mir's new book, “Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers” at discoursemagazine.com/ideas/2021/04/13/post-journalism-and-the-death-of-news.
In short, the news used to be distributed by the elite, whether as newspapers, magazines, tv, and even state-run radio. Then in the 1990s, the big shift occurred as the Internet allowed us with small voices to speak up. Now four billion people compete with the mainstream media over what is news, through forums like Facebook, blogs (like this one), email newsletters, Twitter, YouTube, and so on.
What Gurri and Mir say will help you understand the news business today and why it is so awful. For instance, they note that all news is a form of fiction, because it is presented from one person's point of view.
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What these sorts of discussions seem to be unaware of are specialty publications, like the ones I produce. I think specialty publishers aren't suffering the problems of mainstream newspapers because we got certain things right:
- Adapted to new publishing technologies
- Targeted niche audiences
- Operated on sustainable budgets
We understand the new publishing technologies, and so we made use of the Internet early. I abandoned my print newsletter for an email one in 1996. I published by first ebook in 2000 and abandoned print books by 2013. This blog has been operating since 2003.
We target niche audiences, and so have a product that readers want. Being small, we cater to our readers and can afford to interact with them one-on-one. This ties in to an important point that the Internet revolution enabled: people want to know they are being heard -- whether Arab Spring or the bad state of BIM.
We operate on a sustainable budget, and so we survive when large publications with huge staff, and expensive printing and distribution models flounder. As I am fond of saying, it was the computer (and then the Internet) that allowed me in 1991 to become a one-man publishing company and handle every task this job involves: subscriptions and advertising; research, writing, and editing; design, publishing, distribution, and marketing; and feedback. As I don't have a lot of expenses, I don't need a big budget.
While I agree that digital-everything is annoying, it is the primary way to survive in this the-Internet-makes-everything-free culture.
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I must add my appreciation for those who gave me advice along the way, just as I was able to help others to get on their way.