This whole “future of media” thing is pretty damn brutal.
This week, Variety, the Washington Examiner and Time Out Chicago have all announced plans to close their print editions. At the same time, super-blogger Andrew Sullivan has decided to half the number of free “read more”s his visitors get before hitting his paywall. And the Washington Post — the second-to-last paywall holdout amongst major newspapers (only the Guardian remains) — has made plans to start charging its most frequent visitors for access.
None of this should be surprising, at least not to people who have been listening to a word I’ve been saying. In print, the only publications who will survive in print are those which focus on excellent, long-form writing for an audience willing to pay for it (you don’t see many book publishers abandoning print). Online, media will bifurcate into two camps: the everything for free / linkbait headline / aggregated content / pageview-jacker crowd, and the we actually do real journalism and charge for it crowd. The two will co-exist perfectly: the linkbaiters directing new subscribers to the journalists and the journalists providing content to the linkbaiters.
Viewed in that context, there’s nothing surprising about how things are shaking out this week. Variety is a breaking news paper, and as such has no business being a print daily. Time Out Chicago is listings and reviews. Again, no point in print. Fuck only knows that the Examiner thinks it is. Sullivan and the Post both have real journalists, and real readers making their switch to paid subscriptions absolutely right and proper.
The only odd thing is how slowly and timidly the change is happening. Right now, we’re still in the denial stage where print newspapers continue to try to push breaking news on paper and while listings and classifieds magazines still attempt to justify their place on the newsstand. Online, the linkbaiters continue to waste money on real reporters, while the journalists dick around with porous paywalls and metering and stupid grabby headlines to try to compete on traffic.
Each side will learn soon enough: Unnecessary print will continue to die, Buzzfeed will lay off its political staff to double down on cat videos, and people like Sullivan and the New York Times will lock down even more of their work for those who are willing to pay for it.
In about ten minutes, I’ll be Right now, I’m the guest on a #Muckrack “Twitter chat” where I’ll be talking more about the future of journalism business models. I’ll also be gratuitously plugging the upcoming Print Edition of NSFWCORP, despite the fact that issue one is totally sold out.
Update: join the chat here.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)