English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a lovely lunch the other day at the Celtic Manor hotel with three of my favourite people! I was joined by my lovely wife Joanne, and my good friends Pippa and Dai Davies. We talked about how the internet seems to have changed everything,

Pippa you’ll know as an author and blogger in the guise of @mrsmoti or from her Mrs. Motivator column in the Western Mail, Dai is probably less visible, but is something of a serial entrepreneur, and as he quietly goes about his business, something of an inspiration to me career wise too.

Our talk was about all things online, marketing especially, and the digital media particularly. But given we are all a little older and shall we say, experienced, we also reflected on how things used to be. And that’s when it struck me. Some of the PR the ‘internet’ gets is astonishing. But how much is actually true?

We are all familiar with the stories. The internet has killed the music business as we knew it. No one actually buys CDs anymore, and certainly not from an actual, physical store!

Ebooks have revolutionised publishing. Anyone can do it and become a best-selling author. Google the term ‘self publishing’ and find tales of self-made and self published millionaires that have smashed out a couple of best sellers while working two jobs and are now living their dreams.

And poor old traditional media like newspapers have been especially adversely affected, or so we have heard. News papers, and radio stations for that matter, all over the country have closed down as readers, listeners, and advertisers desert them in droves and head for the panacea that is the world wide web.

Newspaper fire orange

Newspapers: Dead? (Photo credit: NS Newsflash)

But scratch beneath the surface of our perceptions for a moment…

I read the other day that sales of printed books still far outweigh ebooks. While ebooks are brilliant and have helped drive a so called reading renaissance, printed books are by no means dead.  The greatest ambition of even successful self published authors might still be to land a traditional deal with one of the big publishing companies.

And my friend Dai tells me that CD sales are still a bigger deal than downloads – despite what you might think.

We are on safe ground with Newspapers though? They are in trouble right? Well how true is this perception?

A recent article on Adage.com detailed some of the Newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal still making healthy profits. And many are to be commended for the innovation they are showing in order to reinvent themselves in this digital world.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am as much an advocate of digital media as anyone, and I am aware of the challenges facing traditional media in a very ‘real’ way (wink). But as is always the case ‘I think you’ll find its more complicated that that’.

There is no doubt the internet, and particularly it’s recent accessibility and the choice it provides, have driven the traditional media scene into a spin. But all is not yet lost, and I believe we will see some of these global media brands retaliate with innovation and invention. Some of the stuff the Guardian is doing online is excellent, and the Daily Mail is rightly recognised for its successes in this space.

Don’t forget, these newspapers and radio brands and even TV stations are huge brands. They won’t go away over night or without a fight. And we are already starting to see some of the effects of that in the marketplace. TV, Newspaper and magazine advertising for instance, still dominate all ads spend in the UK and indeed the global marketplace.

We must also factor into this mix the global recession. We are sort of used to it now. But two or three years ago or so the whole worlds economy went south in a BIG way. Markets tanked, banks crashed, businesses and even countries sank. It was and still is, awful.

These enormous financial pressures added to the increasing competition provided by the online businesses of today and tomorrow have had a devastating effect. Anything business with any weakness within its organisation has been swept away. Its easy to place the blame at the hands of the online revolution, but its more complicated than that.

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

Not even Facebook are having things all hteir own way (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And don’t think the internet sensations have it their own way either. Name a business making significant profits online? Google? Amazon? Facebook…? Who else? There aren’t many actually making much money. Lots of great ideas and exciting start ups, but profit?

And it doesn’t look like the rush to proclaim social media marketing as the next big marketing thing is going all that smoothly either. Big businesses and small remain sceptical about its ability to generate ROI. Speaking as a huge fan of all that stuff, its clear there are many many brand related benefits to doing social media well, but actual cash in return for that effort is harder to pin down.

And coupled with this difficulty, its pretty clear that the consumer isn’t keen to be marketed to in their new-found social spaces either, further complicating the opportunity for the social media platforms trying to monetise themselves, or the advertisers trying to get ahead either.

Social Media Turnoffs

Social Media Turnoffs

So while there is no doubt that the internet has had an enormous impact on traditional media it’s not a simple picture to understand.

Hundreds of years ago The Luddites protested against the impact of technology on their textile industry. With the benefit of hindsight we see these days a revolutionised industry, not a destroyed one. Progress meant the weak were lost of course, but technology encouraged innovation and excellence. There are still places and markets for the artisan textile workers today. They don’t have the monopoly they once had hundreds of years ago, but overall their industry boomed and grew into what it is today. Textiles today are mass-produced and custom-made and everything in between, with the only pre requisite being excellence and a market that will support it.

Maybe the same could be said for the media landscape in 5 years, 50 years, or even a few hundred years time? There is no doubt technology will continue to change and accelerate change in this space, but it seems naive to assume the death of any of it just yet?

Change yes, Massive systemic and cultural and economic change. And change is not always comfortable. But death? I’m not sure that will be the case at all.

I for one look forward to seeing how it will all pan out for the media industry, and will continue to thank my lucky stars I’m able to be part of it!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below, or email me directly on [email protected]

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12 replies
  1. Mike Bersin
    Mike Bersin says:

    Hi Tony – stimulating as ever! I find it interesting how many big internet businesses use TV advertising – which I think may say something about the positive intrusive, stand-out / cut-through capabilities of mainstream broadcast media as opposed to the more subtle manipulation of volumes of clutter you get on t’internet. Possibly.

  2. philippa
    philippa says:

    Hi Tony, yes it was a lovely lunch. We didn’t get on to talk about Hulu, upmarket version of You Tube in US, not UK yet. Interesting they co commissioned last series of The Thick Of It. Upmarket channel for advertisers, with great audience retention. Here soon, I hope.

    On a totally different tack, some friends who work online say that to relax they just want to interact with paper or the more passive, receiving medium of TV – anything to get away from screens that make you do stuff!

    Great post to end the year on.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Pippa, and thanks for the Hulu heads up. Will keep an eye on that one.
      And I think even I, with my comparatively low level of online consumption, feel the need to relax now and again

  3. Debbie Leven
    Debbie Leven says:

    Tony, this was a really thought provoking post. Traditional media face challenging times and, I think, must change to survive, particularly in reporting the news. We get our news and information in so many ways now and social media does a good job at tapping into our technology, and internet, driven lifestyles. But, traditional media is still strong, and has a role to play, where more indepth reporting, comment, opinion and debate is required.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      I’d agree Debbie. I think the main challenge for the traditional media is to find a place for itself. It can no longer survive by spilling into all sorts of niches, it must specialise and reach out to specifically target audiences too

  4. Daniel P. Mitchell
    Daniel P. Mitchell says:

    Competition leads to advances in everything. The internet is massive media competition which is great for everyone. We all will become better because of it and I mean every on on this earth, especially those of us in the media business. I have been in the radio business for over 50 years, and this digital competition is leading to more creative thinking in radio than I have seen since TV hit the airwaves in 48. Dan Mitchell

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Dan, that’s an interesting perspective. While I agree that competition will result in improvement along the way, is not entirely appropriate to say is good for everyone is it?
      There are plenty of weak businesses and business people that will fall by the wayside during these disruptive times, and I’m not sure these competitive forces could be described as good for them?
      I do take your point however, and thanks for taking the time to comment!

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