The fear pervading the print industry right now is understandable; media organizations are hemorrhaging money; ad sales are anemic; online revenues are inadequate and show little potential for improvement. But some of the reactions provoked by this fear strike one more as scapegoating rather than an honest investigation of reality. In that vein–the recent claim made by Creative Cloud that social media is killing print media:
Infographic by CartridgeSAVE.co.uk
Let’s sum up the argument: social media’s ascendance overlaps with the decline in ad sales and the 86-ing of numerous magazine titles ERGO a graph showing the trends in each equals “proof that social media is killing print magazines.”
That their respective ascendance/decline is contemporaneous is an objective fact. But there are some obvious problems with their logic: “If A+B then A=B, with A being the rise of social media. B the moribund world of print magazines.”
We can out this foolishness by substituting any other pop-culture trend in place of “A.” As such, the rise in popularity of vampire-related content is responsible for the decline of print media. The High School Musical trilogy signed Electronic Gaming Monthly’s death warrant. Glenn Beck’s sobriety killed Vibe Magazine!
Of course any rational explanation for the industry decline would find room for the new cyber-uses of leisure time (social media compromising a decent percentage of this) but the explanation must be a composite of many reasons, and in the final analysis the print world cannot be presented as a blameless victim of social trends.
A good start in this direction is David Simon’s informed take on newspapers’ talent for self-destruction:
Anyone listening carefully may have noted that I was brought out of my reporting position in 1995. That’s well before the internet began to threaten the industry, before Craigslist and department store consolidation gutted the ad base, before any of the current economic conditions applied. In fact, when newspaper chains began cutting personnel and content, the industry was one of the most profitable yet discovered by Wall Street. We know now, because bankruptcy has opened the books, that the Baltimore Sun was eliminating its afternoon edition and trimming nearly a hundred reporters and editors in an era when the paper was achieving 37 percent profits.
In short, my industry butchered itself, and we did so at the behest of Wall Street and the same unfettered free market logic that has proven so disastrous for so many American industries. Indeed, the original sin of American newspapering lies in going to Wall Street in the first place.
And for those who’d rightly argue that Simon’s take is somewhat newspaper-centric, there’s Michael Moore’s description of the print world’s flawed business model:
When a publication exists for its advertising, to fill the pages in between glossy ads, it should come as no surprise that readership loyalty is nil. And though my condolences go out to anyone who’s lost a job as a result of these cutbacks and layoffs, I cannot grieve for any publication that’s losing its beat to TMZ.com, or its audience to Ashton Kutcher’s twitter feed.
The Cold Hard Truth is that, recession or not, the media landscape is shifting. Downsizing in the print world is both inevitable and irreversible. Survival will depend on the basics–putting meat and potatoes between your covers instead of the high-fructose corn syrup mess we’re seeing in newspapers and magazines alike.
That, or getting Glenn Beck back off the wagon.