Recently a friend who’s in the magazine industry was complaining about how their company (who is a very large media company) continually cut the magazine budgets while spending gob-loads of money on their “Online” and “Mobile” people. The techies have access to iPads, iPhones and brand new Macbook Pros, while just down the passage there are magazine teams, retrenched to a fraction of their previous size, running on 10 year old macs.
The print-media industry is no doubt floundering. Seeing demand for their products dropping by significant numbers every year (We’re talking overall sales figures of around 20% what they were 10 years ago) while ad-sales is becoming more and more brutal due to the “global economy”, but probably more realistically because they’re losing ad sales to online channels. Fewer people want to buy newspapers and magazines and they media industry is making less and less (from ad sales) off the reduced distribution numbers.
So you can imagine the kind of pressure the industry is in and how incredibly easy it would be to come to the very foolish conclusion that the correct remedy is to spend those gob-loads on “Online” or “Mobile” to the detriment of the content producers.
My father was a printer, technically an offset lithography “machine minder”. He was badly paid, worked long shifts, went to work in blue overalls and came home covered in ink. The work was tough. You needed to have an expert eye, understand some of the chemistry, have delicate hands and be able to perform running repairs on dangerous machines. We’re talking about giant room sized printers and the “minder” having the ability to hear that the third roller bearing on the transfer shaft dingle dangle needed oil in the next 30 minutes or the machine would fail. (I’m paraphrasing)
The reason my dad was badly paid even though his job required so much skill was because lithography was an old technology. The mystique had been removed from the process hundreds of years earlier and the machines looked after themselves just enough to allow an unskilled worker become fully skilled in 3 years of on the job training.
The technology was mature and there was solid competition in the market. This drove the printing prices down, which pushed the salaries down, which meant that eventually the job of “machine minder” was only slightly more attractive a career than something like panel beating.
Compounding this, in the last 30 years printing has evolved to the point where the machines are easier to use, faster and even more reliable. Instead of hiring one or two “minders” per machine you can now have a few roaming engineers for an entire factory of printers. Putting ink on paper has never been cheaper.
My father moved to the publishing world about 30 years ago and has been wearing chinos to work ever since… Though I’m pretty sure he would still prefer to deal with machines than colleagues.
The costs and skill required to deliver content will always drop. Technology takes care of that, whether it’s a slightly more reliable room sized printer, or software that makes building an iPad app easier, the world is pre-programmed to make processes more efficient.
However, We will never have Artificial Intelligence that can drive to Darling and write about an Evita Bezuidenhout show, take photographs of the flowers in the Karoo or write about swimming with dolphins on a cool Sunday morning.
100 years ago quality content made money… Nothing has changed and it is unlikely to ever change. How content is delivered should never become more important than the content itself.
You might be able to wow people with your swanky iPad application with annoying faux-turning-pages animations, but eventually, just like the printing press, the technology will mature and everyone will be building swanky iPad apps. The cost involved in building those apps will drop and the big boys will be consistently competing against small, leaner, startup content producers. It took hundreds of years to get the cost of printing so low that we could print a daily newspaper and sell it to the masses. The cost of producing an Ipad app drops constantly and, as the technology evolves, it becomes trivially easy for anyone with some good ideas and camera to create something that other people want… and god forbid, would actually pay money for.
So, if you happen to be the CEO of some big ass media giant, spare a thought for Gutenberg and then Google “ios and android development frameworks” before deciding not to buy your content producers some decent computers. You could even do it on your iPad.