Mass Media – Mass Destruction

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It is not just about the music industry. Television is feeling it. Radio is feeling it. Magazines are feeling it. Newspapers are feeling it. Movies are feeling it. Books are feeling it. Even websites and Blogs that act like mass media are feeling it too. What are they feeling?

The end (as they have known it to be).

There were four extremely powerful Blogs posts and articles that hit varying perspectives on various mass media enterprises that have come out over the past few days. All of which will be listed below and all of which are worthy reads. The net result is that nothing looks all that hopeful for them and their future (if they keep on keeping on as they have been for years). It was four very tough pieces of content to digest considering the time of year. Instead of looking forward to a brand new year of hope and opportunity, it looks like mass media is about to face mass destruction. Not from a content or audience perspective, but from a need to really look into their own mirror and decide who, exactly, they want to be in a world where the term "media fragmentation" is passed around far too easily without bearing the serious consequence of those two simple words, and advertising dollars are going to have to be divided amongst many more players than any of them ever imagined.

Audiences seem to be everywhere and nowhere.

Advertisers seem to be leery of what mass media can do for their brands and even more skeptical of online marketing.

Content Piece #1 – The Wall Street JournalAll I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper by Paul Mulshine (hat tip – Matthew Ingram):

"This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won’t be able to do it either."

So, great Journalism and the future of newspapers would have been secured if help wanted and automotive ads had not worked more effectively online? The new reality is this: before people didn’t have a choice where they could go if they were looking for a job. It’s not the advertisers fault that they found a more effective way to get their advertising to work. It’s the newspaper’s fault for not figuring out a better business model and delivering something more than a shell to surround those types of ads. People did not stop reading newspapers because those ads shifted online, they stopped reading newspapers because the content was not relevant to them anymore. The sooner newspapers become relevant to people, the sooner they will discover their future. The reality is that it may not be the same amount of mad money as it was when they were the only game in town – and that’s the real and mundane reality.

Content Piece #2 – MssvThe Long Decline of Reading by Adrian Hon:

"The closer you look at the statistics, the more depressing it gets. In the US, only 47% of adults read a work of literature – and I don’t mean Shakespeare, I mean any novel, short story, play or poem – in 2006. If that doesn’t sound too bad, consider that it’s declined by 7% in only ten years. It doesn’t matter whether you look at men or women, kids, teenagers, young adults or the middle-aged; everyone is reading less literature, and fewer books… But it’s not just bad, it’s awful. Reading skills for all levels of educational attainment are declining, up to and including people with Masters and PhDs. Reading is strongly correlated with all sorts of good things, such as voting, volunteering, civic responsibility, and even exercise. Furthermore, reading skill at a young age is a very good predictor of future educational success and earnings. Correlation is not causation, but it’s a fact that employers are demanding people with better reading and writing skills."

You would think that with Blogs, mobile text messages, Facebook, etc… that young people are reading a lot more than when the only choices were books or TV. I would argue that people, in general, are probably reading a lot more than they realize (think about email, etc…), but there is a bigger issue here: Snackable content is easily digested and just as easily forgotten. Let’s not forget about the different types of learning we get from the different types of reading. This is one of the primary reasons why picking up a book is such an important part of your personal development. Speaking of which…

Content Piece #3 – TomDispatch.comThe Time of the Book by Tom Engelhardt (hat tip – Hugh McGuire):

"A friend (and author) called me recently after visiting a large bookstore in Northern California and, his voice suitably hushed, told me that, on a weekday, he had been the only customer in sight. That’s typical of the nightmarish tales about traffic in bookstores and book sales now ripping through my world as 2008 ends… Publishing houses are certainly bleeding and those that haven’t yet started to take staff and books out to the woodshed, axe in hand, are going after end-of-the-year bonuses, raises, and who knows what else, while management girds its loins for ‘the inevitable.’ After all, in malls across America, the chain bookstores are getting mauled (just like other retailers). Traffic at many bookstores nationwide has evidently slowed to a trickle. Book orders have reportedly fallen off a cliff. It’s now being said that, in this Christmas season, no popular book is selling so well as to be unavailable. In other words, if you want it, it’s going to be at your local Barnes & Noble. For publishing, that’s like an obituary."

This non-ad supported media is also feeling the digital pinch in a big way. If you think e-books and the Amazon Kindle is going to be this industry’s salvation, take a look at the amount of publishers, authors and book-sellers and compare that with the amount of people who not only buy books, but actually read them and buy some more.

Content Piece #4 – TechCrunchContent Sites Bracing For 50% Revenue Slowdown by Michael Arrington:

"Display advertising revenue is going to fall of a cliff in January according to a number of content sites I’ve spoken with who rely on advertising for revenue. ‘Sales through December were mostly strong as advertisers used up their marketing budgets,’ said one sales exec. But, he added, ‘there are few buyers for this next fiscal quarter, and those few that are buying are looking for steep discounts.’

Just how bad will it be? I’ve heard estimates of 30%-80% revenue drops over the next three months from companies that serve a variety of content (games sites, tech news, celebrity news, political news, etc.). The median pessimism point is around 50%. The people I’ve spoken with work at large public companies and small one-person blog shops. Absolutely no one I spoke with said they expect an up quarter."

A New Year’s Resolution.

Start thinking right now about the business you’re in. Start thinking right now about your clients and how they connect to their consumers. Start making resolutions around strategy, business development and relationship building. The challenges are not going to pass us by like ships in the night. Starting out of the gates in 2009 next week, we are all going to be faced with one of the most challenging years the marketing, advertising and media business has ever seen – from all angles.

How are you going to change and evolve in 2009?


  1. You are very correct about advertisers being at a loss and loosing faith in mass media, but still unsure of online marketing.
    Change is hard to swallow. I still have trouble with it. Ultimately, if companies take a step back and remember it’s all about people. A few things might start to click.
    Individuals matter again. There are a lot of individuals on this planet. We have work to do.

  2. In content piece #1, are these two statements not contradictory?
    Statement 1:
    They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.
    Statement 2:
    People did not stop reading newspapers because those ads shifted online, they stopped reading newspapers because the content was not relevant to them anymore.
    My theory on the decline of print media? We’ve finally crossed the attention span threshold. When the “new new thing” comes out in 140 characters or less, who has the patience to focus on a 10,000 thought piece? We’re in the land of bumper stickers and McInfo.

  3. I think there is still a huge market for longer more heavy “thought pieces”. I also think journalism has many qualities that citizen journalism can never have. There is a big difference between reporting and journalism and professional journalism.
    I think they all need new models that don’t rely on traditional types of advertising. I also think that the media dollars will still be big, but maybe not as impressive as the traditional media companies (and their shareholders) desire.

  4. Hey Mitch
    I agree with your perspective on the overall media and advertising futire .. .. However I am not so sure that social media will be instinct .. let’s see how the consumer will react…… New models are in order tough….

  5. re the papers – i think the real pressure is that papers compete with all news sources now. they compete directly with all tv news websites. Entertainment sections compete with entertainment blogs. politics sections compete with political blogs. thats a ton of competition that is increasing daily.
    regarding reading – not only is content more snack-sized these days, youtube has made more of those into video snacks. why create a picture in your mind when youtube does it for you?
    regarding books – well, that’s just plain sad. goes hand in hand with the reading issue. But I wonder if consumers start hibernating, won’t they need some to read while they are hiding under the covers? hopefully the nightmare will be over soon.
    re business? in my case its advtertising – its going to be cut-throat. three words: service service service. oh – and don’t forget service. did I mention service?

  6. Regarding content piece#2.This is not just about a 47% read of literacy. But an overall global decline in literacy rate. This is a link to Canada
    If you can’t read you are not going to pick up any form of literature, newspaper or not. I admit I am far from a great writer, but you should see the state of the English language that arrives across my desk for resumes these days. I am also not usually one to raise a voice, but I think a lot has to do with family values. I remember my Dad reading the newspaper, my parents would buy me a comic to read, and most of all we would sit together and have a family meal and have a family conversation. I predict that perhaps the change in economy will do us all good, bring back some tradition. Stay in cook a meal and just chat together. Start conversation, which lead to want of knowledge, which intern will again lead to reading; whatever format that may look like. Can 2009 be known for Family Value, which leads to such old fashioned business strategies such as service already mentioned. on a final note If you are using Twitter check out who the top followed people are following… guaranteed they are tweeting with at least 3 national newspapers. We need to get the information some place in a trusted source, it may just not be printed on paper.

  7. #1 -I thoroughly enjoyed this read for it’s honesty and for a few nuggets of wisdom. I didn’t agree with a lot of what he said, but there is something to the active vs. passive acquisition of information. As Andy pointed out, there is something to be said for the ability to rapidly analyze and report, but you will miss something, always, in doing it that way. Yet, that is the basis of online media. The story changes three days from now and you have new content.
    #2 The whole Twitter authority dust-up. Did your English teacher tell you to go find 7000 sources and write a 10 page paper? The thought now is that you can just build in app (in 12 hours even!) to fix your problem and do the work for you.
    It’s a decline in reading and a decline in critical thinking. Snackable content is fun and passive. Critical thinking is an active endeavor, yet boring. And might not give you the information you need and you’ll have to start again.
    #3 My bookstores are likewise empty. My library is always, always busy from 9am-9pm. It is a hub of activity and a community gathering place.
    #4 I don’t run ads nor would it be a profitable endeavor. Still waiting on my $3.16 check from BlogHer. I think there are dynamic ways to branch out from the publishing online content. Profitable ones.

  8. Thanks for collecting and posting this, Mitch. As a former educator, owner or a marketing firm, freelance journalist, and writer of creative nonfiction, I can see so many sides of this.
    The decline of reading among adults is disturbing. Kids are being told in school that reading, and reading well, is the key to success in life. And then they go home and don’t see their parents ever pick up a book or newspaper.
    And the death of newspapers? We seem to want our information scanned and packaged by someone else, often someone who does the analysis and puts their own spin on it (O’Reilly Factor, Colbert Report, etc.). So we’re too lazy to read and do our own analyzing, trusting instead someone else’s take on the issues. Perhaps print news is (or will be) obsolete, but I’d rather have the facts, from wherever, and come to my own conclusions.
    I don’t agree that the content in newspapers is irrelevant. And if readers think so, what does that say about an informed citizenry? How can we vote intelligently if we don’t know what the issues are or where the candidates stand on them?
    As a reporter for two local community magazines, which are doing well, I see people more interested in what’s going on in their own backyard, than what’s happening in Washington, or Iraq. As a citizen of the world, that scares me, too.
    And finally, being in the marketing business, I do see many of my clients opting out of expensive print ads and putting more money into social media and relationship marketing. I think that businesses that have heavily depended on advertising will need to have a more diverse revenue plan to successfully navigate this tough road ahead.

  9. I read Mitch’s post yesterday w/o leaving a comment and instead declared it a “must read” on Twitter. I’m still not sure how & what to comment on specifically, because the entire post is filled with nuggets. Overall, I believe that change and evolution are the keys to a brighter future for these industries.
    However, the reading comment I’d take issue with. Our indie/local bookstore was very busy this holiday season as well as our local library being a hub in the community. As a family, we’re always reading something whether it’s a book or magazine.
    I think everyone in any business should be looking at innovative/actionable ideas to move forward.

  10. There is something funny happening:
    -declining readership/viewership of traditional media means that ad revenues are drying up.
    -while web ads are increasing, there is a sense that they are not as effective for advertizers, or as profitable for media companies …
    -the money going into web ads/marketing does not seem to be replacing the old media ad budgets
    so: are people buying fewer products now? or are marketing execs just realizing, now that there is a direct measure of impact of ads (click-thru), that maybe advertizing was never so effective?
    that may not be clear, but i am wondering, since consumer culture seems to be thriving as much as ever (financial meltdown notwithstanding), how that can be the case if a) old media ads are diminishing in returns and b) new media ads don’t work?
    how come everyone’s still buying & how do they know what to buy?
    answering that question, i guess, would make you a pretty rich marketing company.

  11. Also: re: reading, does anyone else notice the strange paradox of decrying the “decline in thoughful reading & writing,” while reading & writing long thoughtful commentary on this blog post and the links herein, only one of which is from a traditional media company?
    i don’t buy the mantra of the decline in reading. maybe people are buying fewer books, but i would bet that we are reading and writing more than any time in the history of the human race.

  12. Re: Bookstore slumps. I bought more books from Amazon in 08 than any other year. The reason – I became an Amazon Prime customer and get free shipping. Also the experience is swift and clean and the recommendations are useful.
    Switch to my experience at Borders. I went to buy a magazine, got in line (yes there were other customers) get to counter and clerk starts up-selling me – do you want a Borders Card, can I have your email address? etc etc. Not cool
    I live in Portland and try and support Powells but every book in there is 25% cheaper on average at Amazon. What to do?

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