Commentary

Some Personal News, And A Prediction About Media's Future

Today’s report will be my last covering the media beat through the Publishers Daily newsletter for MediaPost, at least for the foreseeable future.  

Through this note, I want to express my thanks to all those who tipped me off to stories, sent me press releases about interesting developments, and took the time to be interviewed. My time at MediaPost was a brief run, but rewarding. I started in October, working with some old colleagues and several new ones, led by Joe Mandese, whom I’ve long admired as a media-industry editor and journalist.  

In that span, and prior journalistic stints at Folio:MinForbes and other brands, I’ve explored the rapid transformation of the media space, especially in the newspaper and magazine-oriented media markets.  

Like everyone who works in media, I worry about the long-term trends. Brands have shuttered and professionals laid off. Many parts of the U.S. are now news deserts, no longer served by newspapers. Many other areas are underserved by “ghost papers,” no longer able to carry out the basic functions of a traditional newspaper. 

Then there is this single essential characteristic of the shift to digital media. The revenue-generation capability of digital has historically been much lower than print in the 27 years since the emergence of the commercial internet. You know, from “print dollars to digital dimes.” No one’s really sure if the digital dimes are turning into digital pennies. 

A lot of this goes back to the original sin of digital media — believing the early tech gurus and their claim that online information needed to be free. Hyperlink technology was the secret, they said. Content was meant to be shared, they said. The resulting increase in traffic would produce more ad revenue than ever before, they said. 

Well, that didn’t turn out to be true. And even now, most digital media companies measure their success in terms of visits and page views and social engagement, and not by the revenue they produce.  

The “content-needs-to-be-free” ethos meant that the big tech and social media companies eventually ended up with all the revenue. The top three — Alphabet (Google and YouTube), Meta (Facebook and Instagram), and Amazon — control more than 60% of the total digital ad market. Adding insult to injury, this oligarchy was formed on the backs of the media companies that fed content to the platforms. 

And continuing with the chain of events, the revenue-starved media industry kept chasing the latest new thing. There was the infamous “pivot to video.” Then the pivot to content marketing. Then audio. Then data. And so on.  

But here’s the upside, and the reason I’m more hopeful about media now than I ever was. We never lost the ability to create great content. Or to aggregate valuable audiences. What’s more, and I can’t say this with empirical precision, but more and more, people are fed up with social media. They recognize its toxic impact on society and their own lives. And they stop using it. That’s a long-term trend that’s just emerging, I believe. Which means eventually they’ll return to high-quality media brands, and with them, the ad revenue will follow.  

And all of the from-necessity experimentation of the last 20 years has created something important: Resilient, entrepreneurial media companies that have developed multiple sources of revenue (including paid subscriptions) and the ability to innovate and iterate. 

And so, because of the secular trends and the forced adaptation — by both magazine and newspaper brands — the coming decade and beyond will see the rise in strength of media, in terms of influence, importance, and engagement.  

Look to MediaPost to continue to chronicle all this.  

As for me, I’ll remain in media. I’ve taken an assignment that gives me the unique ability to observe the media world, particularly the B2B and association media sectors. I look forward to staying connected with all of you. 

 

3 comments about "Some Personal News, And A Prediction About Media's Future".
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  1. Bill Brazell from WIT Strategy, July 5, 2022 at 8:05 a.m.

    Tony, it's been a pleasure reading your work and working with you during your time at MediaPost. We'll miss your perspective and your attention to detail. Best wishes on your next steps! 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 5, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.

    Sorry to see you go,  Tony, I enjoyed your articles. As for your comments about digital media, I agree that some sort of adjustment is in order---but what---who knows? Unfortunately the Feds will soon  step in and muddy the waters as they try to fight "monoploistic" practices and other dragons so things may get even more messed up before they get better. Anyway-----best of luck in your new venture.

  3. Dane Claussen from Nonprofit Sector News, July 6, 2022 at 12:46 a.m.

    To say that all newspapers gave away their content for free for 20 years because of tech guru hype is only a small part of the story with the exception of promises of huge audiences.
    Newspapers were also petrified about losing audience share, ad market share, being regarded as old-fashioned, being forgotten about it, losing relevance, etc. It was the exact same response that the newspaper industry had when radio started and broadcast television started and cable TV massively expanded. As a journalism history and a former newspaper editor and publisher, I've never understood why newspaper folks have repeatedly through history had so little confidence in their own value, or at least in the audience's ability to perceive that value. (It would have helped, however, if newspapers had given their audiences more of the solid content that audiences wanted--coverage of business/finance, education, science/tech, health/medicine, religion, community features and personality profiles, excellent obituaries--and less of what newspaper journalists wanted to give them, such as lots of nationally syndicated political columns and ridiculous amounts of sports coverage. I can't think of another industry that has ignored the majority of its customers so much for so long--maybe US homebuilders, or some of the colleges/universities?)

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