Newsweek just released their last print issue (cover). It shows a vintage photo of Newsweek’s old offices. Below the photo is a Twitter hashtag: #LASTPRINTISSUE (we’ll forgive for a moment that the hashtag is in all caps).
The hashtag is a nod to who killed Newsweek (the Internet), and to Newsweek’s future (the Internet).
Here’s the cover, then below some discussion:
I remain convinced (or perhaps newly-convinced) that putting news online for free, over a decade ago, was a huge mistake.
At the time, I was thrilled. Especially as a gay man, it was amazing to be able to read gay news from around the country – around the world – when once upon a time I used to read the Chicago Tribune every day just waiting, hoping, for the occasional gay-oriented story. I remember going to the library and searching for “gay” books – something, anything, to reaffirm that I was “normal,” and just to connect with people (ideas, words) like me. So putting newspapers online for free was huge, in that regard.
But 15 years later, I can’t help but feel that it was a huge mistake.
First we had recession of 2000/2001, which hurt media a lot. Then there was the competition from blogs, which, rather than “stealing” stories (at the last the good blogs didn’t steal), would link to news stories and provide a quick summary that, in retrospect, may have worked too well as a medium for sifting through the mountain of news online. In some ways, blogs helped to elevate the best news by highlighting it away from the rest of the competition.
But I wonder whether blogs didn’t also divert the MSM’s “drive-by” traffic – people who used to cruise news Web sites for news, now cruised blogs in order to find out what news was the best, most interesting, news, and only then would they go to news sites and actually read the stories in question. That decreased traffic. In the same way that Twitter and Reddit and Facebook, among others, are now decreasing traffic to blogs and the Netroots. People cruise social media to see what the latest news is, and only when they see a headline that piques their interest do they visit an actual news site/blog. That decreases our traffic, which decreases our revenue. And many of us maintain these sites as full-time jobs – the best sites can only be maintained full-time – so a drop in revenue hits us the same way that losing half of your salary would you. It’s a big hit.
And finally, you have the advertising crisis. Ad sales plummeted during the recession a decade ago, and they plummeted during the Great Recession (depression) of the last four years. People don’t advertise nearly as much when the economy sours. I lost three quarters of my income on AMERICAblog after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Imagine 3/4 of you annual income suddenly disappearing. (Those of you who lost jobs know the feeling.) And my experience wasn’t unique. Media, and online media especially, across the board suddenly saw their revenue dry up.
So first we had the problem that online advertising fell down. Now we’re facing the problem that online advertising is not getting up. And it may not ever again. Some blame Google, and Google certainly shares soe of the blame. A lot of advertisers, including non-profits and political campaigns, prefer to buy ads on sites through Google because they can get bottom of the barrel rates, as compared to our other ad networks. Why don’t we just remove Google as an ad network? Because it brings in too much money on its own, that we’d take a huge hit by dropping it. So it’s a Catch 22. Keep em and lose money, drop em and lose money. And for anyone who says “that’s just the market at play,” we don’t say that when big companies want Americans to work for chump change, or worse, want foreigners to work for $1 a day. The free market and a livable wage can and should go hand in hand.
Putting that aside, many now worry that online advertising is never coming back. As I noted in our recent fundraising appeal:
DailyKos announced yesterday that their online ad revenue has dropped 30% over the last year. At AMERICAblog, we’re in a similar financial situation…
[A]s Markos noted over at DailyKos, that’s no longer enough:
“The business of online publishing has changed… [we] can no longer depend on advertising to finance operations… [and] we have to make up the shortfall in other ways.”
So online advertising revenue isn’t sufficiently coming back for anyone.
Then, to add insult to injury, people are now using iphone/mobile and Web browser apps that convert Web sites into more “readable” formats – in other words, they strip out all of our ads and feed your our content in a text-only format that steals 100% of our revenue, in essence forcing us to work for free, and eventually bankrupting us. I understand the desire to more quickly be able to visit Web sites. I do not appreciate anyone creating an app that literally steals my income. Keep that in mind if you ever think of using these apps, or know anyone who does. You’re reading content online for free. Content that people have slaved all day producing. Yes, it’s a pain to wait a few seconds for their pages to load. But consider it your contribution, your donation, to the very hard and very good work these people are doing on your behalf, and on behalf of the issues you care about.
So, add all of that up, and you have a whole world of pain in the media and new media business.
I don’t know where things go from here. But when Republicans create entire fake-news networks in order to circumvent the media – the truth – because they see the truth as the number one threat to their political message, then it worries me when that media starts to wither on the vine. People may have some gripes with the traditional media, but that media is necessary, and many do a great job in spite of our sometimes gripes. For all of our concerns about the MSM, we’re worse off, and the Republicans are better off, without them.