What can newspapers learn from the music business?

It’s a pertinent question. And media proprietors could do worse than look at how the music business coped when it was hit with technology, combined with changing tastes and consumer patterns.

It’s a theme taken up by Nick Crocker on the Mashable site and it’s definitely worth reading.

The first is that reports of the old media’s death will be greatly exaggerated, just as they were for the music business. Just as people still buy CDs and even vinyl, there is a real hunger for news out there. So media organizations will continue, they’ll just have to reconfigure the delivery model.

Secondly, the print industry brand will suffer. Just as the music industry caused all sorts of problems for itself when it engaged in litigation against Napster, the print media is on a hiding to nothing with its plans to charge for online content and proprietors like Rupert Murdoch saying Google needs to pay for content. Google is popular and trust me Rupert, this is not a fight you can win.

Another point is that the ecosystem is the problem. The music industry has been forced to develop new models, moving away from making, selling and distributing physical CDs and embracing new digital distribution models. The news industry has similar issues. Newspapers need to develop content that is unique and compelling enough for people to buy, rather than producing more of the same which is pretty much the situation now.

And finally, there is no longer a one size fits all model. Just as the music industry had to embrace multiple platforms, from free to outrageously premium, the news business will need to introduce multiple products, at multiple price points, through the right channels to the right consumer. The stand alone news website will become a thing of the past.

For his part, Mark Cuban says the comparisons between music and newspapers are wrong. “The music industry made the mistake of trying to destroy digital distribution in order to protect the physical distribution of CDs. Not only did they not have an answer to digitally distribute music in the Napster era, but they STILL DO NOT !. Fortunately for them, they have finally recognized that for the most part the CD is dead, but where revenue is being generated by their music, they deserve their cut. Imagine if they had established a digital distribution portal for audio and video, ala Hulu, that could at least attempt to compete with ITunes and Youtube. They would be in far better shape. Instead they are reinventing their business model. The CD was doomed to die, no matter what happened. Trying to protect it was a mistake.

“The newspaper industry tried to protect the physical distribution of their papers. That was a mistake. Their problem was not only that they lost their ability to differentiate from content on the net, but they also lost their ability to differentiate their value to advertisers from the net. There is no inherent advantage to reading the news or advertisements via the paper vs the internet, it has become a personal or business preference. Unfortunately for the local newspaper industry, it doesn’t appear any of their publishers are creative enough to come up with options to attack digital.

“Comparing Cable, Telco and Satellite TV vs Online Video and referencing music or newspapers is a mistake.”

Still, there are echoes. It will be worth seeing whether media proprietors learn from the music industry’s mistakes.


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