Aug 6 2019
10:12 am

"Disruption" is now a central theme of Silicon Valley business models. But is this a good thing? Newspapers are the perfect example.

In theory, the internet would replace the cost of multi-million dollar printing presses, giant, never ending rolls of paper, news print and toxic chemicals, fleets of delivery trucks, and all the associated labor costs, making it possible for newspapers to deliver the same news at a significantly lower cost with less environmental impact. It would still be the same news, written by the same reporters, and edited by the same editors.

But that's not what happened.

Somewhere along the way, people got the idea that everything on the internet should be free. They are no longer willing to pay for reporters to write or editors to edit when they can get all they want or think they need for "free" from Facebook. So newspapers had to cut staff, which lowered the quality (and quantity) of their product, leading even more people to question why they should pay for it.

Another reason the shift to "digital" isn't working for newspapers is that even advertising has been devalued. Google and others have made ad "impressions" worth practically nothing. What once cost advertisers hundreds of dollars can now be bought for pennies. And "pay per click" ads make a lot of online advertising effectively free.

This only works on a massive scale and only for online publishers with millions and millions of visitors per month. Smaller publishers can't survive on it and readers are no longer willing to pony up for subscriptions. The only winners are the ad networks, who rely on that massive scale (and harvesting your personal information) to make money.

A few surviving community newspapers and small online publishers are fortunate to still have less sophisticated advertisers willing to pay for print advertising or online "sponsorship" ads with no expectations of meaningful cost/benefit metrics.

The same thing has happened to music. In the not too distant past, fans would pay $10 or so for new CD releases by their favorite artists. (Then it shifted to paying $1 each to download just their favorite songs from the CD.)

For that same $10 they can now rent a month's access to all the songs ever recorded. The artists get a fraction of a penny for every play, meaning that, similar to online publishing, it only works on a massive scale and only for the biggest artists and labels. And fans still complain about the cost and, ironically, the decline in quality and diversity of music.

Another "disruption" is the quality of information. People take everything they read on Facebook and "the internet" as gospel, not realizing they are being manipulated and played by corporate and more sinister interests. The same thing happens in print, but folks are more likely to be critical and demanding of their news source if they're paying for it.

Sadly, the public at large mistakenly considers "the internet" a source of information rather than just a method of delivery. And what an efficient delivery method it is. The old saying that "a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on" has never been more apt.

Anyway, I'm not so sure all this "disruption" is a good thing. But we sort of ask for it, and as usual we get what we pay for. Or don't. And you can take that as gospel because you read it on the internet. For free.

bizgrrl's picture

Excellent and so true.

Excellent and so true.

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