Here is another entry in the long catalog of prescriptions of what to do to rescue traditional media, from Jason Pontin, publisher of Technology Review.
He’s a good writer and has been doing the hard work of running a technology media franchise during a time of tremendous transition. His general philosophy of the future of media is summarized as so:
It is a canard that neither mainstream media’s managers nor its journalists have good answers to that question. There are plenty of stupid publishers and editors, and their publications will die; but there are many smart, technology-savvy leaders, too, and their publications will prosper. While the details are still debated, the broad outlines of tomorrow’s media are becoming clearer. Consumers must pay for more of what they read; publishers and the media buyers who purchase advertising must be given technologies that will make online display ads more competitive with the keyword ads that search firms sell. Some of the things that must be done cannot be done by the media itself; it won’t be easy, and it might not happen, but it can be done.
He follows with 15 specific points to facilitate the transition. In a couple of them, he walk up to a brutal truth that could lead to a harsh conclusion for traditional media, but then he backs off to a general conclusion of “We can do better.”
The brutal truth is that much of traditional media, including magazines, have inflated the size of their audience in order to drive price, Pontin says. The conclusion would be to reduce the print run of the magazine to people who are clearly willing to pay, and to then reduce advertising rates commensurately.
Would it be a wonderfully simple world if the following dialogue could take place between the magazine and the advertiser:
“Magazine: Hey, we’re decided to cut back our print circulation to people who really want to pay to get the magazine. Our circulation will drop from 300,000 to 150,000, we think. We’re going to re-invest some of the savings into our internet distribution and our total audience is going to grow to about 650,000 people online. So, we’ve got a search- and display-advertising program for you on the web site, along with your print campaign, and your total investment with us will be the same next year as this year.
Advertiser: I don’t get it though? Why am I paying the same amount? You’ve cut your magazine readers by half!
Magazine: Well, you were pleased with the impact of your advertising last year in the magazine, and we know that it was because of the activity of the core readers. That group is the same. Now, we’re building even more audience online and we’re giving you great ways to reach them and measure them. You’ll have more impact on your business with the same spend.
It doesn’t work that way though, does it?