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LOTS WRONG, BUT WHAT’S RIGHT?: Panels on the future of media are a standby in this fast-changing age, but lately news seems so bleak that even filling them out can be a challenge, as Gene Stone, moderator of a panel hosted by Out Professionals on Thursday, found when he sought a book industry representative. “No one would even agree to sit in the audience,” he said.
So who did turn out? Former Martha Stewart chief executive and current Gilt Groupe chief executive officer Susan Lyne, who noted that when media is no longer scarce, allowing advertisers to bid up prices for limited space, all previous business models are destabilized; author James B. Stewart, who found some hope in the fact that Manolo Blahnik reportedly makes money on his blog through click-through e-commerce, and television and film producer Mary Murphy, among others.
Plenty of people could point to what went wrong. Lyne said the magazine business had erred in drastically lowering subscription prices to rely heavily on the advertising model, tying its fortunes to advertisers rather than readers. Nathan Richards, the ceo of ContentNext Media, said networks had failed to gain traction on their Web sites, which he said draw fewer readers than newspapers online. And while all the panelists said the prized wall between editorial and advertising was important to journalistic integrity, it had also left many journalists ignorant of how their own business worked (or didn’t.)
Outgoing Wall Street Journal media and technology editor Rich Turner (who recently moved to a gig at WSJ.com) pointed out that it’s more fun now to be a consumer of media than ever, but in terms of news and information, someone was going to have to pay to gather it, and predicted The New York Times would have to make some tough choices. “I watched what happened with the Bancrofts,” he said, referring to the family that controlled the Journal’s parent, Dow Jones, before it was purchased by News Corp. “The discussions about preserving the integrity lasted about 30 seconds.” (He acknowledged the Sulzberger family was a different case, in part because it’s involved in day-to-day operations.)
But when it came to actually predicting the future — say, 10 years hence — few wanted to theorize. “You can’t plan your business for 10 years — it’s more like 18 months,” said Richards. “You have to be ready for uncertainty.”