May 10th, 2015, 7AM

A discussion about the future of newspapers in novel form.

Time to get up. Coming out of the shower I grab the morning news. I lazily wonder which of my feeds could have shoved here an article about the rapid collapse of the Paper & Pulp industry, reeling under the blows of the demise of printed news, but couldn’t quite figure it out.

Certainly the P&P industry must not be the only one suffering: those that were based on the physical delivery of the morning paper (e.g.newsstands, distribution) must have disappeared or morphed heavily.

Actually, the full story unraveled in a relatively short timespan: practicality got people hooked to a proposal that the news industry offered out of sheer desperation, but if I remember right, it was not readers, but rather smaller publishers who elbowed their way in by offering subscribers only the sections they really cared about: people were only too happy to join in – after all, if I do not care for football, why should I pay for the sports section?

Then Apple brought it to the next level, introducing granular, by the article pricing with the launch of their iPaper terminal: after all, it was so easy for them to create the iNews Store: the full billing and delivery chain was there, ready, willing and able to charge 99 cents for an article, as it did for a song.

Early adopters were quickly attracted by some of the many advantages associated to infrastructural factors (weight reduction, ease and ubiquity of purchase, search, bookmarking) green factors (elimination of printing costs, saving of so many million metric tons of paper, elimination of freight associated to delivery) or ability-related ones (less eye strain, bigger typeface or text-to-speech for the vision impaired).

But it was, as it always happens, only the beginning; soon, new patterns started to emerge in news consumption: people started unbundling “the paper”, as iTunes unbundled “the album”.

Subscription feeds became more and more granular, allowing people to subscribe to authors, topics, geographical areas, dates, becoming more and more picky about what they wanted to read; real-time feedback about such preferences then started to make its way in the production process. Publishers got pretty good at turning insight coming from reading patterns into ways to get a bigger share of their reader’ screens.

People started to tag and rate what they read and – inevitably – to share all of that feedback.

In short, people could finally assemble the news supply that was right for them, and other people started following them; newsbrokers developed and then published statistics of “what’s popular” in Minneapolis, Toronto or Rome. Celebrities shared their own news picklists and people started reading the same newspaper as the Dalai Lama, Bono or Barack Obama.

After all, the rich arsenal of crowdsourcing tools was already there, ready to be applied to news: digg, twitter, vanno -type mechanisms all spawned a news version and obviously ubiquitous connections meant people could add the #swineflu tag on the fly.

I can’t exactly remember whan publishers started to die, but I know authors prospered.

Another interesting twist was that popularity became truly portable: authors appearing on TV started build a following simply by asking viewers to “follow” them; broadcast media had to follow suit and started to unbundle their channels too. Hundreds of channels gave way to millions of streams, with viewers people subscribing to “Lost” or “House, MD” independently from the channels that carried them.

At that time broadcast died, but also YouTube died, while authors continued to prosper.

The lesson of these five years is perhaps that the humble technology called XML (rumored to be dead in 2009) did not really die: instead it ate everybody’s lunch!

Thanks to Steve Gillmor for writing the post that negatively inspired this one !


2 thoughts on “May 10th, 2015, 7AM

  1. Newspapers aren’t dying because of paper costs, printing costs, editing and pre production costs which are all avoided on the internet.

    They are dying because they can’t keep up with timeliness, variety, insightand flexibility afforded by the information flow available on the internet. These same factors make it impossible for editors to keep up with the information flow.

    That is the sad thing about the demise of the newspapers… because the print media is the one that had figured the editing function out, set standards, and created a value system around editing. Their business model and customers embraced it.

    The internet needs to sort out the editing function and a business model to support it. It will take longer than any of us will like, and as with most human systems, we will experience pain and suffering in the process of getting it right.

    If we love freedom of information and free choice (which is what the internet is really all about), we WILL eventually get it right. The newspapers who really focus on this dilemma and help with this transition will survive.

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