17.11.16

YIELDING TO CREATIVE DESTRUCTION.

Last weekend's Wall Street Journal included a full page "Notice to Readers" in the usual corporate style of spinning a degradation of service as an improvement of service.  (Call me cynical.  Cynical me has received enough proxy statements from mutual funds, fee schedules from banks and utilities, and clawbacks of frequent buyer benefits with such spin in them that he's justifiably cynical.)

"Next week we launch a sharper and more focused print newspaper.  This refreshed edition concentrates our unrivaled journalism into two core sections, Monday to Friday, for a smarter, more concise read."

Yes, and you reduce the two ounce candy bar to 1.6 ounces at the same price and call it diet-friendly.

David Warsh -- himself, I note, once in the employ of Boston's Globe -- takes a more charitable view.  (But if you want the whole piece, click now, his site has the annoying property of only showing his latest column.)
Newspapers exist to process and assess the rival claims of experts – politicians, governments, corporations, the professoriate, pollsters, authors, whistleblowers, filmmakers, and denizens of the blogosphere.  When its own claims to authority are misplaced – a spectacular example having been the Monday before the election, when newspapers were still expecting a Clinton victory – the print press and its kith and kin correct themselves (the next day) and investigate the prior beliefs that led them to error.  A free and competitive press resembles the other great self-correcting systems that have evolved over centuries – democracy, markets, and science.
Yes, the mugging by reality going on in the palace-guard media is refreshing.  But emergence is messy, and the downsizing going on in the free and competitive press is going to turn out the same way the downsizing in transportation and higher education and manufacturing has gone.

On the other hand, the new methods of circulating information (including disinformation, speculation, and gossip) are cheaper to produce, and they compete for eyeballs.  Perhaps the management of The Journal are responding to incentives.
That’s why the WSJ decision to cut back to from four to two daily sections is significant: it acknowledges the reduced but still very powerful claim of print on consumers’ ever-more stretched budget of time.
Or maybe the USA Today folks had the right idea thirty years ago: pithy and superficial sells.
For many years, newspaperfolk considered that their businesses were mostly exempt from the laws of supply and demand. Price cuts play a big part in the lore of its past. Today, the future of the industry depends on the recognition that price/performance is everything.
Exempt from the laws of supply and demand? Or was Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier also forty years ahead of his time, when he called the old Journal Company (morning Sentinel, afternoon Journal, WTMJ on AM 620 and Channel Four) a monopoly?

For my part, I have trouble squaring "reduced but still very powerful" with anything other than a reduction of service.  Compare taking the Cleveland to Chicago sleeper off the Empire State Express.

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