Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ted Rall Bites the Hand that Feed

Editorial cartoonist and syndicated columnist Ted Rall has released another in his series of animations, created in association with David Essman. Their newest focuses on the newspaper industry and all indications from the title sequence through to the end credits is that it's something of a slam to the industry.

(Video and analysis after the jump)

While it is true that much of the newspaper industry is undergoing a transformation toward electronic distribution, what seems to be missing from a lot of discussions is that newspaper sites and linked or aggregated newspaper articles still provide a large percentage of the news content consumed on the web. The evolution of the medium is actually pretty comparable to the migration from radio to television in the middle of the last century.

Woman of the year, Betty White was a big radio star and in the early days of television, she took a character from her radio repertoire into people's homes via the new device. Edward R. Murrow was a radio reporter, who translated well to the new medium. Basically, the content was much the same or very similar, there was just a new outlet and over time, both mediums evolved into the products that we have today.

Newspapers appear to be on a similar trajectory, which doesn't mean the industry is dying, it's just becoming something new and I predict that those who successfully adapt will survive.

Another point that the 46 year-old Mr. Rall seems to miss is that he's just nine years shy of being 55 and older, which is a growing demographic, as is demonstrated by the following chart.

(Note: Ted and my bracket is represented by the widest bar.)


Of course, I fully suspect that by the year 2020, we will have moved to primarily electronic distribution for all, except maybe some small or niche publishers and as those in Mr. Rall's bracket move up the pyramid, the average age for those receiving a print product will once again be two steps above. But, considering that he's a lot closer to being the average age of a newspaper subscriber than he is to most bloggers, I find his cute headlines a little disingenuous. After all in nine years, does Mr. Rall think he'll suddenly become an opera aficionado?

Another aside the video makes is about the "high subscription rates", but if you compare the average monthly price for most newspapers to a couple of movie tickets or dinner for two at a mid-priced, family-style restaurant, they're really not that bad unless you compare it to free and most e-editions costs less than a DVR lease/service.

Though, I guess none of this compares to audacity of taking a swing at the industry, when you consider that on March 11th, he posted the following to his blog;

The Internet is cool. But it doesn't pay. If you want to keep seeing good cartoons, write to your local newspaper and demand that they carry my stuff. It works more often than you'd think!

This is not to say that the industry can't do better.

In researching this post, I looked throughout the Washington Post's website and couldn't find a subscription price anywhere. Though I did learn they offer an e-edition which being from outside their market, I don't recall seeing advertised and when I called subscription services, the sales associate couldn't quote me a non-discounted price.

Clearly the industry is in a transitional phase and it is time for solutions, not lazy uninspired jabs at a wounded target, especially if your current standard of living depends on their survival.
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