Here’s a short note to everyone I know in the print media industry; Please, when you bemoan the state of media today, do not tell me that it’s “management” that has got the industry where it is.
I hear this all the time, particularly from Fairfax staffers and ex-staffers. If only Hywood or one of his predecessors had taken the opportunity to do X, everything would have been better. Hilmer should have bought Seek. David Kirk should have committed to quality journalism. Brian McCarthy should have fixed afr.com. News Limited people frequently have the opposite problem: when Fairfax cuts are in the news, they tend to suggest that News knows much more about digital product. But when News Limited cuts make it to the outside world, they too mutter darkly about the “wasted money” spent on digital media ventures like The Daily, which News closed this week.
The print media industry is in transition everywhere in the developed world. That transition results from changes in the economics of media. Journalists, who are paid to understand their society, should have noticed this by now. If you think print media’s problem is that it has somehow selected all the very worst managers in the world, and that this is why the industry is struggling, then please, ask yourself: how likely is that, really?
I like print a great deal – I’m currently editing a print magazine – and it has a future as an effective media form. But it’s a smaller future, and it’s less about the mass market than about niches: the big rises in Australian magazine circulation last year came from Donna Hay, Frankie, Game Informer and Men’s Fitness. You could bring in the lovechild of Albert Einstein and Tina Brown to run a mass-market newspaper or a magazine and it wouldn’t make that much difference to falling circulation.
Printed-word media needs to experiment with new economic models – which is just what News did with The Daily. But most of those experiments will fail.
The economics of media has changed fundamentally in the past 20 years. Technology has made information ubiquitous and cheap and has left general newspaper and magazine advertising struggling to compete. The era of the Few Media has ended and the era of the Many Media has begun. No management genius can change any of that.