Follow the money – 'old media' falling further behind

Google raked in $20.8 billion in ad revenue in the first six months of 2012, while the whole U.S. print media generated $19.2 billion. Chart: Statista, CC some rights reserved

Sometimes a simple chart says so much.

Like this one, showing a steep decline in ad revenue – plus a monetary migration away from what I'll call old media (newspapers and magazines) to the web, specifically to Google.

Mind you, it leaves out revenue from newspaper web ads. So perhaps all electronic media are getting more of that particular harvest.

But it's among various indicators of just how difficult life has become for print media.

Eventually this may re-sort into some new mode of relative stability, something more predictable, that can be built upon, as the old model offered. (Will that be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years – ever?)

If that happens, those with perfect hindsight can point out which strategies of adaptive change separated survivors from doomed dinosaurs.

Or maybe instability is the new normal. After all, the speed at which juggernauts can rise and fall is startling. Consider: if Google seems dominent and invincible now, only a decade ago that role was held by Microsoft. (We have not even heard of the Google of tomorrow yet.)

These days, change seems to sit atop media's old three-legged stool of content, audience and revenue.

What a challenge it is to keep all that stable.

While this evolutionary upheaval is up-ending print news and entertainment, it spills over into all sorts of other realms as well.

Are you having to adapt your industry (your life?) to ever-accelerating change?

How's that going – and what guideposts would you offer to fellow travelers?

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15 Responses to “Follow the money – 'old media' falling further behind”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I remember the old days! It wasn't all that long ago though it seems like the Stone Age.

    I was in a meeting at about this time of year when it is dark out early. We were discussing a fax we had just received from a customer when the lightbulb in the office burned out. Someone climbed on the desktop and changed the bulb. When the light came back on we saw that the hot old bulb had been put down right on top of the heat sensitive fax paper completely erasing the subject under discussion.

    I still have a fax machine that is handy once in a while. I bought it in 1993 or 1994 and it still works great except that it thinks the date is January 1900. Nobody could be on the phone when you wanted to send a fax or you needed to have dedicated line. Now I can be working on my desktop computer, receive a fax, and watch a video on my iPad all at the same time. And I don't even really have a cell phone except a cheap go-phone for emergencies.

    Seems like I actually got more done in the old days when people didn't expect you to be constantly available.

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  2. Newt says:

    This made me remember when I was teaching HS Economics (due to luck of the draw, not, unfortunately, talent or strong interest). This would have ben around 2006. I had the students use a (free) on-line computer game whereby they all got 10 simulated $K, and tried to make successful investments following the real market in real time. (Most of them really enjoyed this, and some more than doubled their money in a few months).

    Anyway, I remember Google going up, and up, and up, day after day. I warned them, "Yeah, right. Another internet bubble. Wait and see."
    Yeah, right.

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  3. TomL says:

    We have passed the tipping point (to use a cliche). Newsweek going digital only is a big sign. Print media – at least for newspapers and magazines – is well on its way to disappearing. My guess is in 5 years, 10 years tops all major newspapers and magazines will either be viewable by digital subscription only. Maybe a limited and expensive paper version for subscribers who are willing to pay a premium.

    Journals and magazines I read are well on their way to the transition. At the libraries, we aren't sure what this will mean – what will be the pricing on a shareable ('circulating') digital magazine or newspaper subscription? It is clear that the libraries will be needing more tablet readers.

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    While Google seems to have the largest share of ad dollars, what is more glaring is the drop in ad revenues for all shown.
    I presume (can't tell from the chart" revenues are also down for TV and radio.
    To what extent the poor economy is to blame is the question by all media facing a loss in ad dollars.

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  5. The problem with the print media is that the main product is fundamentally the same as it’s been for a long time. Sure, they’ve added bells and whistles like websites, video, Twitter and blogs. Journalists themselves are absolutely doing things a lot differently. But the core product, the print newspaper, is fundamentally the same as it’s been for decades.

    The typical local newspaper contains some local news. Lots of canned wire service news stories, often shortened into meaninglessness. Tons of syndicated features. Press releases. You’ll notice that all of the stuff, save the first, is identical to what you can get elsewhere for free.

    Newspapers have adapted to the changing reality via the (often free) bells and whistles but they haven’t adapted the core product that they’re all asking people to pay money for.

    They need to recognize that people are getting their national news elsewhere. They’re getting their infotainment elsewhere. They’re getting their sports scores and standings elsewhere. The newspaper can’t compete with other media in these areas. They need to focus like a laser beam on what makes them truly unique: LOCAL news and other local content.

    Sure, all local papers will say “Blah blah blah we do x local stories each day” devoid of context. One weekday print issue of the Post-Star, I counted every single story and tagged it as created by a staff member or not. About 40% of the stories were created by one of their journalists. I’m not picking on the Post-Star (they’re just the one I read every day). Most local newspapers are like this. Many have a much lower percentage of local content.

    Newspapers are losing money because they aren’t offering enough original, unique content to make people think, “I *can’t* not read the paper today because I will miss stories I can’t get anywhere else.” Most local papers don’t have nearly enough of those stories. They need to re-direct their resources. Slash syndicated features to the bare minimum (people freak out about puzzles and cartoons so keep those and the better op-ed columnists but get rid of the syndicated fluff stories). Get rid of all wire content. Take all that money and re-direct into more and more local content.

    Journalists may say it’s crazy. But when your industry is in a death spiral, not be willing to risk big changes is what’s crazy.

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  6. "I counted every single story…"

    Just to clarify: what I mean is that I counted every single piece of content. A news brief is an item. The editorial is an item. This Day in History is an item.

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  7. Bob Falesch says:

    "Sometimes a simple chart says so much. Like this one … Mind you, it leaves out revenue from newspaper web ads"

    Indeed — a huge "leave out."

    The charts says that print ads are declining. It says that Google ad revenue is rising. But I'm not sure the comparison means a lot in itself. By saying "Google", aren't we talking about ads that appear on all of their services: the search engine, Gmail, YouTube, etc? Revenue from newspaper and 'zine web ads would tie up this chart's loose ends.

    But, to your question about adaptation… I'll speak for my life rather than my 'industry', but I'd say I'm thriving now much more than before. I find the search for information, news, and commentary via the "new media" to be much more satisfying and successful than I ever was during the days of newspapers, print 'zines, television, and radio(*).

    * Public radio remains the only component from that list of "old" media that still means a lot to me.

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  8. Gary says:

    I was recently finishing a furniture project made out of spalted maple. I needed to resaw a large piece of maple on my band saw. In order to do this the blade needed to be change. My bandsaw is very large and uses a blade over 100 inches long. Got the current blade off and the new blade installed. I stood there looking at this long blade I had just removed and my mind went blank as to how to twist the blade to coil it up. After trying a few times I decided I would refresh my memory. My first thought was look it up in one of my wood working books. Then I moved forward to present day! I went on line googled the topic and watched a video on how to twist the blade to make three nice little coils! Job completed.

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  9. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    15-20 years back I subscribed to probably a dozen magazines, bought many more at the newsstand, mailed off for books, hit the used book stores, amassed information that way. I still have boxes and boxes of books in the barn, lots of shelves full in the house and shop. Today I subscribe to just 2 magazines- Fur Fish Game and Backwoodsman. They are last holdouts printing odd, weird articles that interest me. Borders is gone, I really miss that place, but that's an indication that things are changing even more. I haven't been to a library in 5 years.

    So should we lament change or embrace it? I have no reason really anymore to go to Watertown. Borders is gone and that was the only draw for me. What's that mean for the future? I don't know, all I know is I both hate change and embrace it.

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  10. Lucy Martin says:

    Great comments, I love the breadth of this conversation. But Arlo said something semi-alarming: "I haven't been to a library in 5 years".

    Borders is gone. Newspapers are struggling. Some had to shut down, others will likely survive as on-line material. But it will be a profound tragedy if libraries die off in this rush to modernity.

    Please, please, please take tangible steps to show that libraries still matter. (It's far easier to keep existing libraries alive than to bring them back later on.)

    This isn't a knock on Arlo. It's a plain fact everyone has more ways to get content now. Which is not a bad thing.

    It's just an observation that the 100 mile diet, the buy local movement, the things that make strong communities, the need for diversity – all of that applies to making sure community "mind-food outlets" stay with us too.

    Get a library card (or renew your old one). Stop by and use your local library now and again. Take your kids or grandkids. Libraires are changing with the times too. Be part of their evolution.

    Keep 'em alive, we need them.

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  11. Pete Klein says:

    I don't know the future of libraries but I have my doubts. They are now trying to compete in the digital world by offering some ebooks for borrowing but you can do that with a wider selection from Amazon.

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  12. Walker says:

    "…it will be a profound tragedy if libraries die off in this rush to modernity."

    Agreed, absolutely. But, I love Google books– I wish it had all books, or at least all history books. And I am happy that more and more museums and archives are putting their collections online– resources like the Northern New York Library Network's newspaper archive are an incredible resource.

    But the physical reality of archives and libraries, while less easily used, are just as important. If you're just looking for a particular fact, a searchable online resource is ideal. But if you want to read an entire book, or for any book with illustrations, or for archives of photographs, you can't beat being there, especially when the librarians or archivists know their stuff.

    It's hard to believe that we won't start losing libraries in the future, but it will be a bad thing when it happens.

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  13. Paul says:

    We do as much as we can to support the small library we have here. But I am also the kind of person that would still buy a buggy whip.

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  14. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Well, I share your concern Lucy, but lets look at the realities. For me, a library is a minimum 30 mile round trip and the one I prefer is a 50 mile round trip. That's a lot of money. Plus there's the time factor, I don't have much time to spend away from home anymore. Shoot, we used to go over to The Birchbark Bookshop in Parishville Center a couple times a month. I don't think we've been in a year or more simply because we can't afford to hike all the way out the other side of Potsdam. That's better than 100 mile round trip. Sad too 'cuz Tim Strong is a heck of a great guy and I really enjoy visiting with him. Plus, where else can you find such a nice outhouse?!

    So, much as I love libraries, it's pretty expensive to travel to one and then realize you have to remember to get the book back on time, etc. It's fine if you live in town I guess, but out here in the sticks it's become an expensive idea.

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  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I went to my mailbox today and found a letter from Google – yes, a hard copy snail-mail letter – that offered me a $100 in free advertising targeted toward smart phones when I spend $25. The funny thing is that they called me last week on the telephone asking to verify my address so they could send me a gift. I told them that I didn't want a gift but I guess they didn't believe me. And they're Google; they had to pay a human to call on the telephone to verify information they could have Googled? It is a strange new world we are living in.

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