One of my PR colleagues had this reaction to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, buying the Washington Post.
“This really is the end of an era for print media as we know it.”
Where have you been?
Print media, particularly print newspapers, official kicked the bucket in 2009 – after a long and agonizing death. In fact, 2009 was so painfully grim for print media that I dubbed it the year of the Great Media Collapse.
It was epic.
2009 ended with more than 14,000 journalism jobs gone forever. It ended with circulation rates at 1940s levels. It saw the end of dozens of newspapers including mainstay dailies in Tucson, Seattle, Detroit, Baltimore and Denver. Heck, in 2009, Businessweek was sold for less than the price of a really nice condo in Manhattan.
The situation has continued to deteriorate at a startling rate.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s annual industry report “The State of the News Media 2013″ made that quite clear by reporting earlier this year that the news industry had its lowest employment level since 1978 (you know the year Andy Gibb was burning up the music charts with “Shadow Dancing.”)
Pew’s report also contained this little nugget:
“Nearly one-third of the [survey] respondents (31%) have deserted a news outlet because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.”
Here are some facts about the news business that ALL of us are going to have to come to grips with:
- Consumers, especially those under the age of 30, will no longer pay for news. Not in print, not even online. For them, news has always been free – a simple search and click on Google or a link embedded in their Twitter and Facebook feeds.
- Consumers no longer care where there news comes from. They use search engines and social media channels to find and discover information. Fewer people are going directly to news destinations. This is why news sites that specialize in SEO – The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed – are soaring to the top while newspapers (which continue to put content behind firewalls) continue to lose.
- Fewer consumers understand (or even care) about the difference between “reporting” and “journalism.” Or, in fact, between propaganda and news.
- Brand marketing is how news is now delivered as the rise of talk radio, FOX News, MSNBC and blogging attest. Many consumers see little to no difference between getting “news” from Rush Limbaugh or getting it from the New York Times.
- Nobody – not Google, not Amazon.com, not anybody – has figured out a successful and profitable business model for selling news and journalism in the age of the Internet. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but right now there isn’t one (unless you count subsidized journalism like PBS and NPR).
People may be shocked that the Washington Post, one of the most respected newspapers in the world, is now owned by the guy who killed the bookstore, but he may be the best thing to happen to the Post.
For all his faults as a slayer of content, at least Jeff Bezos understands how people consume and buy content online.
He might just be the guy to figure out a successful business model for the news business in this disruptive new era.