As longtime readers of Irreal know, I have a fascination for the various media and how they are coping in the digital age. One of the media sectors about which I haven’t had much to say is newspapers. Mostly that’s because I don’t read newspapers and haven’t for many years. I use to be voracious reader of them, often devouring two a day but I came to see them as broken products. The reporting that wasn’t outright tendentious was flabby and often significantly wrong. Michael Creighton famously described the situation with the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. As techies, we’re all familiar with the effect. When was the last time you read a story about a technical subject in a newspaper that didn’t have significant errors and a complete lack of understanding?
The other day I saw an excellent article over at Gigacom by Mathew Ingram on newspapers and their failure to thrive in the digital age. Ingram has a key insight that, while obvious, hadn’t occurred to me. Newspapers’ customers are not their readers but their advertisers. Ingram points out that most often even the newspapers themselves fail to remember this and act as if their readers really were the customers. That explains pay walls and talk about how the readers should be willing to pay for the content they consume. That would make sense if, in fact, the readers were the customers but they’re not. The advertisers are.
That fact, Ingram says, also explains why newspapers in their current form are doomed. Before the Internet, the papers were able to establish monopolies on information delivery but those monopolies were really monopolies on the delivery of printed advertising into targeted areas such as cities or metropolitan areas. Those days are gone. These days, advertisers have a choice of several advertising channels many of which offer more finely targeted advertising than newspapers were ever able to offer. And if an advertiser wants the broad based advertising that newspapers specialized in, Ingram says, they have billions of websites on which they can drop a cheap display banner.
Follow the link to find out what Ingram thinks the future holds for newspapers. Most people can’t imagine a world without newspapers but I can tell you that my little corner of the world has been newspaper free for some time and it’s quite pleasant. As I wrote in Living Without Flash, I was sure I’d miss all the content that Flash brought me but after it was gone, I didn’t miss it at all and hardly noticed its absence.