I watched the movie “Network” for the first time last night, and I’m convinced that there’s something we can learn from the film about the modern state of the media.
Alan Mutter has written an excellent post about why most newspapers cannot afford to shut down their presses and go all-digital.
Mutter proceeds from two premises: that it would be “suicidal for any reasonably profitable publisher to stop its presses in perpetuity” and that a paper going all-digital will have to lay off about half its editorial staff to stay profitable.
Newspapers, he points out, earn about 90 percent of their profits from print ads, and a paper moving to an all-digital format can expect to earn only about 10 percent of the money it did when it produced both a hard copy and an online edition.
He takes a closer look at the famous article by Jeff Jarvis from a few weeks ago, the one in which Jarvis revealed that the Los Angeles Times makes enough from Web advertising to pay the salaries of its 660 newsroom staff members.
Mutter points out that salaries aren’t all the costs that go into building even an all-digital newspaper. You have to pay for health insurance, taxes, IT concerns and myriad other costs, not to mention all the debt that the paper has already incurred.
In other words, the LA Times needs its print division to help pay the bills. Shutting off its presses would mean cutting the newsroom staff by about half or more.
But Mutter is not going around throwing wooden shoes into the all-digital camp’s machinery:
[T]his is not to say that publishing won’t, or shouldn’t, migrate to all-digital media in the future. Before that happens, however, the economics of the business would have to change far more radically than they have to date.
The other day, I spent a good half an hour jotting down my idea as to what an “iTunes for news” would really look like. Now, after reading a post by Pat Thornton, I’m starting to think I wasted my time.
Thornton points out that Apple has stated that iTunes doesn’t turn a huge profit. The program and the store serve a larger purpose: to get people to buy iPods, a produce on which Apple makes a bigger profit.
So we could assume that a similar online store model for journalism would also not turn much of a profit. So why do it? What about the economic side of journalism is it going to save? What more profitable product will the iTunes for news drive consumers to buy?
Also, a new thought, with most of the country’s journalism collected in one, easy to search spot, censorship would become damnably easy. Not good for the health of a democracy, if you ask me.
TechCrunch has it from several sources inside Apple that the company is planning on launching an iPod Touch-like device this fall that has a 7- or 9-inch screen. I want one already.
This passage comes from Dan Gillmor’s “Principles for a New Media Literacy,” originally published as part of the Media Re:public project at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. I think it unwittingly provides a great example of why “number of followers” is a poor gauge of authority on Twitter (and any social networking site).
We have come to learn that the tabloid’s front-page headline about Barack Obama’s alien love child via a Martian mate is almost certainly false, despite the fact that the publication sells millions of copies each week. We know that popularity in the traditional media world is not a proxy for quality.
Gillmor is spot on. The number of people who buy your magazine or click onto your Web site or add you on Twitter is not a measure of your authority or quality, in the print world or in the digital one.
Maybe it’s just my uninformed opinion, but Internet service providers should not be held accountable for what sorts of information flows over their networks.
Several analogies have popped up online in comments about this, especially in comments on RIAA lawsuit stories. For example, toll booth operators are not held liable for illegal driving that takes place on the roads they monitor.
The point is this: those who provide access to networks (of whatever kind) aren’t responsible for policing those networks. They are responsible for providing access to the networks.
Another thing: Yes, pirating music and movies is illegal. Yes, the pirates should be sued or otherwise held accountable for their crimes. But while we, a a society, a compelled to live within the bounds of the law, or face punishment, we are not compelled to help enforce that law. ISPs are run by private individuals and are usually private companies. They should not be compelled to enforce the law any more than a single citizen should be.
The New York Times provides another article on the e-book industry. This one, published Dec. 23, looks at the success that the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and Apple iPhone have had in pulling new customers into the e-book market. It’s a business-oriented article, to be sure, and it glosses over all of the deeper questions about the nature of reading on an electronic screen, its authors preferring to stick to sales figures and marketing as their chief sources of information about e-reading.
Maybe the question of whether reading on a screen is inherently different was answered while I wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps the “twitchy little screen” that Annie Proulx derided in 1994 isn’t so little or twitchy anymore.
Then again, maybe this was just a “technology” article in the New York Times, a category that, more often than not, really means “technology business” article.
As a bit of context, and perhaps a bit of enlightenment, check out this 1991 Times article about e-books.