Publishing’s systems are under tremendous stress, but we have been given a brief period of time to adjust to the new media order.
By Robert M. Sacks
A few weeks ago, I was reminded of Bob Garfield's 5-year-old book, "The Chaos Scenario," in which he explained that various converging forces will doom mass media and mass marketing. Garfield argued that the style of old media will continue to be under stress and that this stress will change what we, as producers and users, have grown accustomed to expect from our media.
Garfield once said, "It would mean radical changes in the economy, the culture and the society itself. And they wouldn't be easy to swallow. And, by the way, it's happening right now. We are heading, all of us, into a historically turbulent moment in the history of media, with the very real risk of disruption on a mass scale."
Upon a review of his statement five years later, I think Garfield was correct. Applying his theory directly to our own print publishing industry, I think it is time to consider that what we are still confronted with is, at best, organized chaos. I say "organized" because we have been greatly privileged to have a period of adjustment between what was and what will be. We are still able, in many cases, to make a very nice profit from our old media tools as we seek a sensible path to use the new tools and methods that are now available to us. As fast as the new media order is changing our universe, we haven't been totally vaporized, but rather greatly scorched. It seems that we have been permitted a short period of time to make adjustments to our business plans toward a new era of publishing sensibility and sustainability.
So, contrary to what many believe, we are not yet in complete chaos, even though our systems are, indeed, under tremendous stress to survive in this still-evolving convergence of technology and society in addition to what is now a stressed global economy.
What we are all going to need in this new environment is a superior business plan and some luck. Like any successful publishing platform in the past, we still need to be in the right place with the right product and recognize the market conditions as they constantly change. It has always been my personal mantra that change is unavoidable and should not only be welcomed, but must be continually used to your advantage.
How is this chaotic period different from other historic periods? It is what I call the disruptive factor. In the past, when new technologies were invented, entrepreneurs could devise a system to sell that new technology at a profit with the reasonable expectations of both a return on investment and some assurance that the technology would not rapidly or radically change. This is no longer true. Ever-morphing technology increasingly enables fine targeting and interaction between marketer and consumer, while our old-style measurement and deployment standards are primitive almost to the point of ridiculousness.
Did you know that just three years ago the average Internet user spent little to no time with social media? In a recent report, Internet users were found to be spending approximately 16 percent of their time online with social media. Do you think that this social-information phenomenon will go away or continue to morph into some greater form of a socialized, community-information distribution system? The growth and power of this kind of World Wide Web social word of mouth cannot be underestimated. It is, in fact, beyond our understanding. It is a new form of niche. And niche is the publishing world's bread and butter. It doesn't matter what your successful title is; you can survive in the world of chaos with niche.
Now that there are alternatives to our magazines, we need to attempt to own the printed and the electronic population of our individual nichedoms. As I see it, this is not far from what our goals have always been—bringing stability to apparent chaos by owning our sector outright in each and every form available.