The Day That Everything Changed

No, I am still not going to make any predictions. No way. Not a chance. Like everyone else, I am doing the wait and see thing.

But … as you read through the endless drivel that will be written later today about Steve Jobs’ latest creation, watch for one phrase. If you see anyone talking about how the Apple Tablet/iBook/MaxiPad/whatever is going so save “print media” then may immediately label that person to be a complete idiot. See, nothing is going to save “print media”. Period. That ship has sailed, and anyone who still talks about “print media” after today is completely and utterly clueless. The problem isn’t the “media” part – people have more of an appetite for media (including the news and information that the dead-tree brigade has been selling in their rags all along) than ever before, the problem is the “print” part. The print part is broken, and in fact has always been broken, it just managed to hang around for years and years because there was no viable alternative.

After today, there will be. It might not be whatever Apple releases today – there is a small but non-zero chance that whatever they show today is “too much, too soon” and people just wont get it – but the die will be cast today, and media will forever change. Maybe not right away, but it will change, and the change will be one way and very, very drastic. Either after today or at some point in the very near future people will expect to have instant and full-time access to all of their media needs – books, news, music, “television” shows, movies, everything – in one spot, on one device, and in an enhanced and interactive format, and they will judge which items they consume (and by extension, pay for) by one criteria and one criteria only: Quality.

So how do you make the leap to the “new world” if you are an “old media”? Frankly, the answer is easy and obvious – but the groaning old fossils who run the “old media” outlets are too stubborn, too stupid, and too old to understand. All you have to do is this:

One: Whatever you are now spending on writers, reporters, photographers … double it.

Two: Whatever you are now spending on designers and production staff … double it.

Three: Whatever you are now spending on IT … keep it the same.

Four: Whatever you are now spending on management and editors … cut it. At least in half. And preferrably by 90 percent.

Five: Take all of the content you are now cranking out like never before and create it and present it for mobile digital media first and foremost. Use this platform as the canvas you create on from the ground up. Then offer an enhanced version on your traditional web site. And finally, if you really think you have to, you can reuse that content in whatever dead-tree publications you still insist on producing.

Now, for the benefit of the old sales and business relics that are still running the show, I will explain what is going on here, since you are generally stupid and are currently doing exactly the opposite of those five simple points.

Points one, two and three: In a world of instant digital media, where there are no longer any barriers to entry and anyone with some ideas and some drive can now publish things, consumers are going to make their choices based on which content is most interesting, which is most relevant to them, and which is the easiest and most appealing to look at. You need lots and lots of professional content, you need to be relevant to a shitload of tiny fragmented audiences, and you need to have a better layout and navigation scheme than you newly-created nine million competitors. And your creation and delivery systems have to work all of the time.

Point four: The one thing people no longer really want or need is you telling them what content they can get or what sort of spin it should have. Audiences are more sophisticated and want to make their own decisions – they want unfiltered data and they want to parse it themselves. They would much rather have a raw report from three different humanoids and then make their own mental edits and conclusions than to have you do it for them. Get off your high horse and stop wasting time and resources and money on filtering that your audience no longer cares about and will eventually start to resent.

Point five: Go back and read the first part of this item. Your print thingies are dead dead dead. As long as you continue to see new media as an “electronic version of your print product” you are doing nothing but hamstringing your potential new bread and butter with the considerations of your crappy dinosaur product. Get with the game, or get out of it. Shit or get off the pot. No one is going to put up with archaic bullshit just because it says “New York Times” or “Globe & Mail” at the top. After today content and quality are king, and your nameplate cachet no longer means anything.

Sadly, this simple advice is going to completely miss any media organization that has people at the top with either a business or sales background – which means pretty much all of them. The winners here are going to be the young, the hungry, the new, the brave, the people who use this model to get their information out there when they never could before. Just like iTunes took control of the music industry out of the hands of the record labels and put it back in the hands of the artists, this will take the right to publish away from the “chosen few” and give it to everyone. And when everyone wins, the stupid old dinosaurs usually lose.

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