Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The Future of Media-Toothpaste Edition

Posted on | September 28, 2009 | 2 Comments

Can we put the toothpaste back in the tube?

Two great opinion pieces I read over the weekend raised that question in my pointy little head. Kevin Morris, of FPGA Journal, and Peter Kann, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones chairman, weigh in from slightly different perspectives on the devolution of the media, Morris looking at the trade press and Kann at the mainstream media.

Morris, in a lengthy and spot-on post (The Death of the Trade Press: Engineering Away Objectivity), has two main points: The trade press was in the bag but the trade press was also a source of solid, objective journalism:

In a warning shot across the bow, in mid-2007, EE Times let veteran editor Richard Goering go, essentially sending the message that electronic design automation would no longer get first-tier coverage because EDA firms were not ponying up enough advertising budget to fund the editorial.The result?  A key enabling technology virtually disappeared from the mainstream trade press because the firms that make it didn’t bring a big enough dish to the pot luck buffet.  The rest of the industry was on notice.  Pay the piper or become invisible.

The responses, as you might imagine, already are rolling into his forum, as to whether there ever was such a thing as trade press objectivity.

Kann, who stepped down from his post as Dow Jones chairman in 2007 (a banner year apparently), argues (Quality Reporting Doesn’t Come Cheap) that the roots of newspapers’ demise started long before the Web:

The start of this downward spiral predated the Internet by some decades as publishers relied more and more on advertising as their primary revenue source, chased larger and larger audiences to appeal to those advertisers, and displayed less and less confidence they could attract those audiences by charging full and fair value for the publications they produced. Thus, well before the advent of the Web, publishers were discounting subscriptions, providing all sorts of peripheral premiums, and giving away more and more copies to maintain artificial circulation bases.

The question is what’s the model to sustain independent reporting on a local, national or industry-segment scale? How about trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube?

The toothpaste greases the sites of millions of aggregators, bloggers, Google, Yahoo and the like. Without it, it’s a very different social media world. Kann points out that Dow Jones made a conscious (some would say also conscientious) decision to charge for its online content. Charging 15 years after we started giving away stuff for free won’t be easy, but nothing else has worked.

You can make a commodity valuable by creating scarcity.

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2 Responses to “The Future of Media-Toothpaste Edition”

  1. Mark
    September 29th, 2009 @ 10:17 am

    Anyone who knows me knows I have been saying for years that the trade media should charge for subscriptions In fact, now that I have been removed from every “free” electronics trade circ EXCEPT EP (Thanks BB) I would love to pay for a subscription to the others but no one seems to know just how to sell me one. Am I on an Island????? I dont think so.

  2. Bob Ristelhueber
    October 16th, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    When I started as a lowly reporter at Electronic News in 1980 (yikes!) we had a PAID subscriber base of about 70,000. CMP tried a different approach, giving away EETimes and Electronic Buyer’s News with the idea that the wider circulation would attract advertisers. For many reasons too varied to discuss here, the CMP approach worked – in the short term. Eventually, Electronic News had to give up its paid subscription model and rely solely on advertising for its revenues. But I guess you can say that ENews just climbed into the same sinking boat as the CMP newspapers. ENews stopped publishing in 2002, EBN in 2003, and EETimes stopped its weekly publishing format in 2008, going to a bi-weekly schedule (en route to oblivion, most likely). It’s hard to imagine how the industry could adopt a paid subscription model at this late date, but I suppose it’s worth a try. Everything old is new again…

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