History will not necessarily repeat for newspapers

Note: This is a post I started writing a few days ago, but never got a chance to finish until now.

It’s been a long time since I heard anybody argue that newspapers have faced predictions of destruction before, but survived. John Hughes holds forth with that position in the Christian Science Monitor:

But there have been peaks and valleys in the newspaper business before, as well as dire predictions about their longevity. With the advent of commercial radio, some pessimists declared that the demise of newspapers could not be far off. They proved to be wrong. With the arrival of television, first in black and white, and then in color, the naysayers again predicted the doom of newspapers. They again proved to be wrong.

Now we have the Internet, which is the first choice of provider for many in the new generation of information consumers.

What such arguments fail to consider is the fundamental difference between old media and new — old media, newspapers, radio, TV, all were top-driven media. Editors/Producers made choices. Readers, listeners, viewers were passive, compliant and limited to few choices. Now the market is exploding, and the audience is in control. Today’s editors and producers are no longer necessarily paid. Savvy media consumers are their own editors, and some are even their own producers. That power shift is significant. And while it doesn’t automatically spell doom for newspapers, it means the old argument about surviving against past disruptors rather weak. The comparison just isn’t the same.

Furthermore, digital delivery of content is just going to get better and better. Right now, newspapers still have some advantages in mobility, convenience and serendipitous discovery, but those advantages will inevitably disappear. The question the John Hugheses of the world need to ask themselves: Are they ready for the changes yet to come?

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