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Vin Crosbie’s Must Read: General Interest is Obselete

Van Crosbie is back with the Second Part of his multi-part post: Transforming American Newspapers, the crux of which is:

The industry’s problem isn’t its ownership, the Internet, or lacks of multimedia or interactivity. The problem is its general-interest product has become obsolete.

Plus the industry, according to Crosbie, has failed to ask the question:

Why did more than 1.4 billion people gravitate online during the past 16 years?

He answers it:

The clear reason why people go online is to find whatever mix of content satisfies their own individual mix of interests but that they aren’t getting from Mass Media.

Read the highlights of the full post here, but do read both parts of his series. This is a must read.

In the past:

newspaper editors had to select stories according to two criteria:

  1. Stories that might have the greatest common interest.
  2. Stories about which the editor thinks everyone should be informed.

He adds that:

Newspaper editors’ use of those two criteria to select stories for publication has become so ingrained after 400 years of analog technology that few editors or newspaper executives are able to fathom any other possible or apt practices for story selection.

The problem is editors are still living with the 400-year-old Gutenberg press newspaper mentality:

Fitting psychologist Abraham Maslow’s statement that “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail,” the editorial production limitation of Gutenberg’s technology has led most newspaper editors to believe that they set the ‘common agenda’ for their community and likewise that their community’s readership is somehow homogenous because it reads the same newspaper edition on any given day.

But the situation, especially in the last 35 years, has changed from when their was limited supply of imformation to today where there is an almost unlimited supply, adding:

The effects this radical increase in the supply of news and information that is readily available to people will have on civilization, nonetheless any one industry, will be much, much larger than anything the invention of the printing press ever wrought.


it is … ludicrous to think that the newspaper industry as it has operated for more than 400 years would not be extremely affected and stressed by those changes in not just how people can now access information but what types of information each person choose to access according to his preferences. This is why newspapers that have reacted merely by putting their printed content online are missing the point of the change…

…the fact that the Internet (aided by topical magazines and topical channels from cable and satellite television) provides any person an extraordinarily better and more articulate way to satisfy his individual interests than any generically-aimed product such as the general-interest newspaper can do is why American daily newspapers are dying.

Now as to the question: Why did more than 1.4 billion people gravitate online during the past 16 years?

Those consumers have gone online primarily to access content that they cannot get from traditional Mass Media packages.

Here is more:

The data about usage clearly indicates that people don’t go online primarily to consume Mass Media. Last month was typical: only three Mass Media organizations’ sites ranked among the world’s top 100 most visited Web sites: the BBC (#46), CNN (#50), and The New York Times (#97). Moreover, the average user of the average American newspaper’s Web sites visits it only 2 to 6 times per month, seeing only 2 to 4 story pages per visit, compared with the average newspaper’s newsprint edition reader reading all pages and doing so 17 to 20 times per month (i.e., 4 to 5 days per week). Consumers don’t use online they way they used print.

Here is more:

Newspapers or other Mass Media companies that each produce a common product for all users direly need to understand that people are not going online to receive a common package (even one with multimedia added to it). They are going online to search and find the contents that the common package does not regularly give them. This is why most of the 1.4 billion people online primarily use search engines and to find content other than Mass Media content, rather than going online to use Mass Media online.

Here is an analogy:

The average supermarket in America contains 45,000 different types of items (meat, produce, canned or bottled goods, etc.). However, imagine that you instead walked into a 400-year old market where the clerks hand you and every other customer an identical bag containing exactly the same mix of some 50 items and they tell you it contains what the supermarket’s manager thought you and everyone else should or would like to eat. Despite its venerable history, would you shop at this market again?

Now onto the question about money:

Some publishers claim that consumers have simply become habituated to not paying for content. Those publishers are ignorant about economics. The consumer might have paid half a dollar for a printed newspaper years ago when it was his only source of daily changing information in text format, but simply won’t give it that value and pay anywhere near that much now that he has online access to every newspaper and other news source in the world.

Now Crosbie address “good enough” vs. high quality:

The overabundance of suppliers leads to competition that actually lowers the threshold of acceptable quality. When there were few suppliers, they used higher quality content (i.e., ‘high production values’) as a competitive weapon against each other. But now that there is an overabundance of suppliers, their competition levers towards being the first to produce content that is at least of acceptable quality. Millions of videos are viewed billions of times each month on sites such as (+3 billion per month) not because of high production values, but because the videos are at least ‘good enough’ to watch. The production of higher quality delays distribution and widespread usage. This corollary runs against the grain of traditional Mass Media organizations, which tend to delay release of their content until it is perfect, but the effect of this corollary is an observable phenomenon.


    • completeness is no longer necessary. The competition among an overabundance of supplier means that withholding a story until it is editorial complete can become counterproductive; the first to release even the partial story wins play and the traffic….
    • the overabundance of suppliers means that establish brands are less of a defense. Unlike traditional forms of media, the Web’s lower costs of entry and its worldwide reach means that any small company – even a start-up – can trump an established brand.
    • brands functionally stop being ’silos’, and despite their owners’ wishes. Traditional newspaper publishers want their publication to be their readers’ sole source, want their readers to use only that brand. However, the more than one billion people who are online are readily mixing brands.

And so why are papers in the USA getting hit the hardest, well again it is simply supply and demand:

Nowhere in the world have more consumers gained more access to a supply of daily changing news and information in a common language than in the United States. The country’s advancement and homogeneity aids its newspaper industry’s undoing.

Indeed, that will be the next part of his continuing essay and its entitled: Why America is the Epicenter of the Daily Newspaper Industry’s Decline


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