The Media Disruption Within

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One media channel always accuses another media channel when either popularity or advertising within the channel begins to wane. Before pointing fingers at others, it may be better to look at what is happening within.

Shel Holtz (famed communications expert and Podcaster – along with Neville Hobson – of For Immediate Release) often says, "new media don’t kill old media." I’m starting to think that there is a second part to this word play: "new media don’t kill old media, because there’s no point in killing something that is committing suicide." Whether it’s unclear business models, lack of innovation or a general presumption that everybody, everywhere needs whatever it is that you are producing, it’s becoming clearer that media disruption comes from within. Outside (maybe even, newer) media channels only add to that disruption by speeding things up or adding choice for the consumer.

Take a look at television, radio and print. But, let’s focus on magazines.

Last night I attended a panel discussion that was part of a literary summer program that enables participants to travel to unique places to not only write, but also learn from some of the best writers and professionals in the literary world. The panel discussion was billed as a conversation on the state of the magazine publishing industry, and featured senior editors from The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The Walrus magazine. I left in the middle. I was bored. I was hoping for a conversation about how magazines evolve in a mobile world. How magazines will change because of devices like iPhones and iPads. How content and publishing has evolved since the advent of Social Media and instant publishing platforms like Blogs and Twitter. I was hopeful to hear how these editors engage and connect in spaces like Facebook and what the future holds for a media that – like most other media – is adapting to digitization, shifting consumer habits and a very different advertising landscape. How are these businesses dealing with their own evolution and what does this mean for the future of magazines?

Navel gazing.

In the end, what transpired was a weird belly rubbing meets self-congratulatory back-and-forth that included name dropping of obscure magazine industry professionals and writers that the general populace has never heard of. It became a session where the advice bestowed practically dismissed the fact that publishing – as an industry – has changed at a fundamental level because anybody, anywhere can (and should) publish their ideas to the world instantly (and for free). Writers no longer have to kneel before the publishing slush pile. It was almost as if the participants (both on the panel and in the audience) were attempting to make the Internet go away. It was almost as if the participants (both on the panel and in the audience) were trying to make the Internet bend to their will. It was if they wished the Internet had never happened. They were all a little too comfortable with the way things were and practically ignoring the world as it is in front of their eyes.

But we’re on Twitter and Facebook and we are using Blogs!

They’re on these channels and platforms, but they’re not thinking about them differently and they’re not seeing how this changes what it means to be a magazine publisher in 2010 (and beyond). To them, the Internet is the proverbial red-headed stepchild. Blogging, Facebook and Twitter are not serious. The words in print matter most over everything else. Everything else is considered “less than”. It’s only credible if it’s in print.

It’s not just this panel… it’s almost everyone.

Change is hard. Disruption is harder. It’s one thing to be shortsighted when you’re invested in the printers and distribution models of yesterday (like a magazine publisher is), it’s another when you’re the actual vision for the content, but you still act like the game (or money or business) is in the printing and traditional distribution, when the power to publish has been given and granted to all with a story to tell.

When you do it to yourself, you can’t blame technology, the Internet, Social Media (or anybody else).


  1. This is a great post Mitch. It’s funny what’s happening in the printed press. Journalists have started to write their column/articles on a blog and feel they’ve mastered the world of 2.0. And they frequently don’t appreciate the conversation that ensues. In order words, they continue to do as they’ve always done but through a new channel.
    They’re like Samurai in late 19th century Japan, holding on to tradition. We know how the story ends.

  2. You make great points Mitch and I think fear has a lot to do with behaviour and yes, a lot of lamenting about what might happen to established mediums. Change is very hard in life generally and you (Mitch Joel) need to keep doing what you do by sharing the benefits and realities of a great new digitized world. I wish you’d stood up, joined the panel and helped them bridge the gap…now that would have been interesting and exciting.

  3. Shy Guy
    A man really loved a woman, but he was just too shy to propose to her. Now
    he was up in his years and neither of them had ever been married. Of course,
    they dated about once a week for the past six years, but he was so timid he
    just never got around to suggesting marriage much less living together.

  4. Excellent post, as usual, Mitch. say, how come I can’t FB ‘Like’ or tweet your post? These addenda would be helpful, in my woefully humble opinion.

  5. I once read, in the context of world history, that empires don’t fail because they start doing the wrong things; they fail because they keep doing the right things for too long. So, too, for media epochs, apparently.
    – kent

  6. A great set of observations. This is what Clayton Christensen was referring to with his “disruptive technologies” observations. The incumbents (the people rubbing their bellies) are incapable of seeing outside their incumbency, so they prattle on while disruptors capable of making the same things using different technologies start our as “marginal” and soon become mainstream. Oddly, the incumbents invariably dismiss the disruptors’ technologies as being too simple, as not being interesting to their core market, as not being financially viable, so lock into their incumbency all the more, increasing their vulnerability. Soon, they are disrupted, and end up with a small, old market while the disruptors have a large, new market consisting of a new value chain.
    It’s painful to watch, and it does look like suicide when you realize what’s going on. Some incumbents dabble, and some (like the NYTimes and NPR here) go much farther, and will likely survive, but most are clueless. It’s s shame.

  7. I 100% agree with what you are saying Mitch. The money, the eyes, the public’s time, and more are all shifting and fragmenting. However, I find myself questioning recently whether many online marketers unduly discount the habits and opinions of offline marketers and publishers simply because we could be out of touch with offline publishing, advertising, marketing, etc. How many of us don’t have television, don’t subscribe to magazines or newspapers, and don’t listen to the radio? A lot, I would guess. I heard about the same thing when you were on The Beancast this week, right? I’m just saying that, while the numbers show a shift toward online, we might be overlooking the bulk of money, eyes, etc that remain in the offline world simply because we’re not that familiar with it anymore. Am I wrong?

  8. I think you’re spot on. I always say everything is “with” not “instead of” and I believe it was on the BeanCast where I talked about how media consumers – for the most part – simply want to consume. I don’t believe this to be a zero sum game at all.

  9. Thanks, Mitch. On an unrelated note, nice Man on the Go video. Simple and straightforward. Every time you do a video for that though, you should have something like a graphic overlay or banner behind you that says how many miles you’ve put in since January 😉

  10. This is rather interesting. As someone who writes for both mediums, I find writing online a lot more rewarding, because of the feedback and SEO aspect.

  11. Loved the article and I couldn’t agree more – especially with “new media don’t kill old media, because there’s no point in killing something that is committing suicide.” I think a lot of people are intimidated by the advent of this new media and immediately reach the conclusion that it will destroy the old print medium. Behavior that just propagates that idea is bound to follow, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Such a shame that the panel didn’t address the issues you mentioned – I know as soon as I heard about the iPad (quite a while ago) the first thing I thought of was how amazing a magazine spread would look on it!

  12. I think a large part of the resistance to change can be attributed to how long it takes to become a “somebody” inside traditional media.
    Few are willing to have these fought-for positions be shaken by anyone or anything, often to the detriment of their bottom line (editorial and financial). Those who are, invariably, end up being seen as visionary.

  13. I think new media is something you can’t get until you begin using it—a lot. It’s at the point where you enjoy the benefits personally that you really can envision how you might blend the best of old media with new media and retain your sense of position in the publishing world. (Or at least that’s been my experience.)
    I sympathize with those who spent their careers building their reputations in the print medium and didn’t jump into new media early enough to trust they can regain any of that power on the Internet. If they admitted that new media was a more powerful means of communication (of stories as well as news), they’d have to admit they are becoming irrelevant. And that’s frightening.
    It’s sad that the panel discussion ignored new media, especially if it was designed for aspiring writers. I don’t know a single writer, save those already very successful, who gets any promotional support from a publisher, which means they all desperately need to know everything they can about engaging online. It’s almost irresponsible to encourage writers to write without giving them the tools they need to get their words read.

  14. This is one of the most encouraging things I’ve read in a while, because it shows that there’s room to move into this space. As someone who’s launching a text/audio e-magazine within about a week, here’s hoping we can disrupt our way into an audience that’s HUNGRY for good content where THEY are, not where the traditional publishing industry wants to move them to.

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