March 3, 2010 Last Updated 1:56 pm

Naysayers have a vested interest in the death of media: when the dust settles they won’t be the new publishers

Robert X. Cringely’s take on the iPad and his opinion that the publishing world is doomed was a fun read — if you are a sadomasochist. “But I fear the ship for most publications may have already sailed. It may simply be too late — because people are too used to getting subpar content for free,” Cringely writes.

Just like the stock market, when enough people scream “buy!”. . . you know it’s time to sell.

Cringely represents a very popular view of the media world: the old world is dying, and they just don’t see how publishing will exist without the old ways, and without the old folk. It must really bother them that they see no future.


We’re doomed, I say.  ☞


But, of course, they are wrong. I’m sure the scribes that lost their jobs when Gutenberg came along were just as depressed.

Cringely writes today “Here’s the nasty little secret most publishers would rather you not know: Their online versions aren’t nearly as good as their print versions. The reasons are pretty obvious. The premium rates publications charge(d) for print advertising subsidized a great many things — like teams of researchers, fact checkers, copy editors, and multiple line editors — that online ad models simply don’t support.”

I can’t really argue with that. But does it make the point he thinks it does: that these magazines will all die off when they go online? No, just that they will change. Illuminated manuscripts may have been the height of the art of book production, but the invention of movable type printing didn’t kill off the form, it just changed it.

Cringely quotes the CJR survey recently released that shows the decline of copy-editing online versus print. It is truly sad that so many print publications cut corners with their online products — but most of these editors are producing both print and online, what makes you think that the better quality publications will be cutting corners when they can concentrate 100 percent of their efforts online? And even if the practice continues, I still say “so what?”

What is always missing in the discussion is the demands of the public. People want to read interesting things. When the old guard dies off will people stop reading? Well, they’ll stop reading the old guard’s copy, that’s for sure.

(I assume the headline on the piece, Apple iPad Is Too Late to Save Print Publishing, was just an unfortunate error. No one is arguing that the creation of a new electronic device, the iPad, will save print publishing. Maybe Cringely’s column was really a way of criticizing his own publication’s work?)

What really bothers many is that people will continue to read publications — on their computers, tablets and phones. And someone will be producing those publications, and advertising in them. Maybe the model won’t support a staff of editors and fact checkers. But the printing press eliminated a lot of scribe jobs as well, didn’t it?

Yesterday’s speech from Penguin Group CEO John Makinson gives me hope. Here we have an executive who sees that to produce books for tablets the form has to change. Books must take advantage of multimedia capabilities of tablets in order to be attractive to buyers. It is not enough that publishes simply port their copy over to the new device — they need to explore the new device’s advantages (and disadvantages) and adjust.

The ultimate irony is that Cringely writes for InfoWorld — a publication that went exclusively online in 2007. I suppose the proper response to declining print revenue would have been to shut the whole thing down and call it a day. But instead, three years into the new InfoWorld here is Cringely, still writing and being published, thanks to the only model IDG thought would work.

Update: Somehow I missed this story from yesterday — Chris Anderson has seen the future of magazines — and it’s on a tablet. Chris Anderson, of course, is the editor of Wired magazine, and part of a company moving at break neck speed towards tablet publishing. Funny how being in a different publishing environment can lead one to a completely different view of things.

Comments are closed.