Doc Searls is dead wrong on newspapers

by Mathew on May 25, 2007 · 8 comments

I have a lot of respect for Doc Searls — he’s been at this whole blogging/social media thing a lot longer than I have, and he is a thoughtful and sincere guy. He also sent me a high-res copy of some of his sunset photos after I saw them on his blog, and for that I am grateful. But I still think his latest post about newspapers and what to do with them (which sprang from a recent WSJ opinion piece by Andy Kessler) is totally wrong.

snipshot_e41cuj0qpkuh.jpgOkay — maybe not totally wrong. I think he is right that some people will always want to hold a paper in their hands, just as some people want to hold books, or listen to radio plays. But the number of those people is dwindling. As I mentioned on my friend Kent Newsome’s blog, I think Doc would probably like to return to a happier time when newspapers ruled the world. So would I. But that’s not happening. And to say that newspapers should charge people for the news and give away their archives is — sorry Doc — one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Almost as dumb as the guy Jeff writes about here.

Would it be nice if we could go back to those days? Sure it would — but we can’t. I’m sure the record industry would like to keep overcharging people for CDs full of crap too. That ship has sailed. If you restrict access to your content some people will pay for it, but the vast majority will go away and never come back. That’s not much of a business model.

Update:

Doc has responded to some of his critics (including yours truly) in a post here, and admitted that I… er, we are right :-) Please read that and his comment below.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com/2007/03/25/newspapers-im-not-dead-yet-or-dead-men-walking/ Rob Hyndman

    I was wondering when you’d say that – have been waiting for your post :)

    Haven’t touched paper on a weekday in years and it will never happen. And if anyone starts charging me for the current stuff I simply won’t visit. It’s not really complicated – a virtually infinite number of suppliers.

    The only exceptions are strongly branded content – but the dimensions of content that can carry the branding are diminishing. And these days, that list is pretty short.

  • http://www.winextra.com Steven Hodson

    Everytime I see this discussion of electronic media vs “hold a real book (newspaper) in my hands” I keep being reminded of a scene from a Star Tek movie where Kirk is caught reading a book .. I can’t remember the exact movie or dialog but the end result was something along the line of – there is nothing like holding a real book and reading from a real page.

    The real printed media made really become a niche market but it will never go away – just ask anyone who lovingly collects and treasures 78′s, 45′s and LP’s

  • Mathew

    Thanks, Rob. Finally got around to it :-)

    And Steven, I agree (I remember that episode too). But I think for newspapers, we’re a lot closer to the “collecting 78′s” end of the spectrum than we are to the “thriving business” end.

  • http://www.deepjiveinterests.com Tony Hung

    If I had the time today I would go on an awesome rant about exactly what you blogged about — but since I don’t, a comment will have to suffice.

    Doc Searls, bless his soul, makes some valid points, but they are the opinion of a clear and shrinking minority.

    Yes, newspapers won’t go away. And yes, there is a visceral pleasure of having something in your hand that can’t be matched by reading it on the screen.

    But that doesn’t mean that it represents the opinion of the majority. And because, it in fact, represents the opinion of a shrinking *minority*, it would be absolutely disaster to court them instead of the growing majority of people — who, like Rob Hyndman — haven’t touched a newspaper in years.

    Newspapers *will* always exist in some form or another, but they’ll be forced to change like every other media has when something new is introduced.

    Radio is still with us, for example, but it serves a very different purpose than when it originally started, and will never ever have the same reach it once did.

    Cheers
    t @ dji

  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    In my mind, there is a big difference between books and newspapers. Newspapers are highly time sensitive, read once and throw away. Information is broken into short articles.

    Books are meant to be read over and over and longer format; people want to keep and collect them.

    I feel that newspapers (and anybody who writes for one) needs to decide if they’re going to move towards the shorter, timely, fast pace news world which is increasingly moving online, or move towards news magazines and books, where pieces are longer, more in depth and not as time sensitive. There’s room for both but this area in the middle that newspapers have traditionally occupied is a vanishing niche.

  • Mathew

    I think you’re right, Tony. And Jason (Webomatica), I agree that books are different in many ways — and newspapers are being squeezed in the middle ground between time sensitive and the in-depth read.

  • http://doc.weblogs.com Doc Searls

    Uncle.

    As I said here …

    http://doc.weblogs.com/2007/05/25#theyreRight

    … you’re right. Locking up the current stuff is a bad idea. Mea bozo.

    Still, bear in mind that newspapers remain a many-billion-dollar business. They aren’t going away soon, even if they are closer to 78s than mp3s (playing with the metaphor above). They need to engage, but not to abandon something that has long-standing and persistent value. Daily print is still that — for many folks, even if not for you, Kent and other young’uns.

    Rock on,

    Doc

  • Mathew

    Thanks for the comment, Doc. Not everyone would be as quick to admit they were wrong — and yes, you are right about newspapers still being multibillion-dollar businesses.

    In any case, good on ya. And thanks again for those sunset shots.

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