The Times reports today on tech gazillionaires’ “helping hand” towards print media. Sort of the journalism equivalent of underwriting a hospital for sick children, I guess. Except these children are not going to get any better.
From the story:
“So ironic,” Les Hinton, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in a Twitter post last week about Mr. Bezos, that The Washington Post “should be consumed by a pioneer of the industry that almost destroyed it.”
The same story has a quote so audacious from Craig’s list founder Craig Newmark, I had to read it twice:
Mr. Newmark declined to comment on why newspaper officials blamed him. He said he supported journalism initiatives — media ethics and fact-checking are two pet causes — because he valued news he could trust. He said he was not even convinced that Craigslist had hurt newspaper classified advertising.
“I’m still waiting to see any hard evidence for cause-and-effect,” Mr. Newmark said. “I’ve been paying attention for a long time.”
Maybe Craiglist advertising (and web advertising in general) didn’t kill the cash cow that was newspaper classifieds; if so, it would certainly seem to be one of Mark Twain’s “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I have a hard time imagining a different scenario, although Phil Weiss in New York magazine makes this provocative point,
From a business standpoint, this may be the most revolutionary aspect of the Craigslist model: It took what had long been defined as a profitable industry—classifieds—and demonstrated that it is not much of a business at all, but is rather what open-source advocates call “a commons,” a public service where people can find one another with minimal intervention from their minders. Even so, the revenues from the tiny portion of ads Craigslist charges for are so considerable that Microsoft and Google and eBay have all come up with competitors or have announced plans to do so.
Sort of interesting considering the inflection point as a discovery that something really isn’t a business “after all,” or at least “any more.” What else is on that conveyor belt?
Today’s Times also has a piece on bookstores turning to donations to survive.
Crowdfunding is sweeping through the bookstore business, the latest tactic for survival in a market that is dominated by Amazon, with its rock-bottom prices, and Barnes & Noble, with its dizzying in-store selection. It’s hardly a sustainable business model; but it buys some time, and gives customers a feeling of helping a favorite cause and even preserving a civic treasure.
So you can’t buy WaPo, maybe you can underwrite a shelf at Politics and Prose?
Surely some consultant (perhaps the guy who got canned from NPR?) could work up a service organizing this market, putting millionaires or small fry in touch with their favorite (needy) purveyors of print. Getting your very own printing press sure beats a tote bag, right?