“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us.
You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end.
I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin…”
No, I have no misconceptions of being Neo… No, I am just looking, reading and thinking. Writing occasionally – as you see – mainly to challenge my own assumptions.
Marc Andreessen started the deathwatch for the NYT (New York Times) 2008, calling the paper – among other things – “…an obsolete, inconvenient physical product that nobody wants in an era of universal online access…” (Fortune March 4, 2008) Others have followed, e.g. Paul Gillin is writing his Newspaper Death Watch, which makes really interesting reading. So I thought I add my domestic 50 cents and see how we are doing here in the North Pole.
My more or less educated guess is that in less than 5 years one of our so called afternoonpapers (IS/IL) will be history and within another five the most influencial – I should say almost institutionalized – national daily HS will follow. I’d like to make the time a bit shorter – as I believe it will be – but just to be on the safe side I say 5 and 10 years. Also, as we are now 2010 so it is easier to remember to make a note on your 2015 and 2020 calendars, respectively.
Do I take any pleasure saying this, arguing this way? Hell, no! All of these three have been offering me work through the 25 years or so I have been working as a photographer. Am I attacking them in some way? No, that is not my intention nor motivation at all. I still do a lot of work for them and hope to keep it that way. So why do I say this aloud?
Because somebody has to. To freely quote one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins: “Life is like a meat stew. You have to stir once in a while, otherwise all scum rises to the top.” (From “Still Life with Woodpecker”)
By “being history” above I mean: cease to exist in their present form. They will either go “digital first” like USA Today announced just a couple of days ago, following The Globe and Mail and countless others) or they go totally digital or hyper-local or something else very drastic. Or they will simply cease to exist (which I don’t believe). Whatever, but the bottomline is: my more or less educated guess is that by 2015 and 2020 in their present form, they are no longer with us. Put the dates in the calendar: 2015 and 2020.
A Bit of Personal History…
… so please bear with me. I’ve always been some sort of maverick when it comes to new technologies. In 1985 in the university I got this crazy obsession that I should learn about these things called Personal Computers. I think Osborne was the first one introduced to the market at early eighties. No, not portable, they were luggable: 10-15kg’s, 8-bit CPM operating system, 64kb (yes, kb, not mb) of RAM… So, I spent my whole years budget and got me one – as I had this crazy notion/obsession in my mind that I should learn about this. Everybody was telling me how I was wasting my money and that there would always be typewriters… – and should you for some reason need an actual COMPUTER there was always the university mainframe…. You would not believe the amount of crap that I got poured all over me…. Remember, I was a linguistics major at the time … and moved to psychology and cognitive sciences later on.
Goes without saying I am still building on the foundation I learned then about IT.
My second example is a couple of years later. Working in Washington D.C. on assignment I saw some AP photographers having an antenna sticking out of their camerabags. Something called a “portable phone”. When I got back home, I leased myself one, nobody had them at the time (no way I could have afforded to buy one, as it was 18 000FIM’s at the time, more or less the same in Euros today, it cost me as much as my car at the time….) Weight c. 1kg, operating time c. 4,5 hours (that’s stand-by not actual using time…) Ericson, if I remember correctly. Again, tons and tons of crap poured over me: “Waste of money, there is always a phonebooth somewhere….” etc. – and … well, the rest is history, as they say.
So I sort of decided along the way that the “next time” I’d be ready and make use of this – and by “this” I mean the ability to smell technological changes – or whatever…. And that is what I am doing now. During the past year I have become totally convinced that newspapers as we know them now will not be around for a very long time anymore.
Disappearing Daily Print
Somebody described our print as “People who dont’ care, selling to people who care less” and that accurately describes the status quo. Why does this happen? There are several reasons, here’s a few: inability to change, obsession that the “news” is the basis of their operation. Denial ad ultimatum, thinking “it’ll get better next year” which so totally fulfills Einsteins definition of insanity. No research and development in content creation and rich media presentation. False belief that technology (iPad, etc. ) will solve the problems. Insisting that The Print is somehow superior to the net. Saving oneself to death. And so on.
There are lots of reasons and they would merit more in depth discussion than this post will allow. And I will discuss these issues more in the future, see. eg. my coming post on the iPad.
But my bottomline: this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is happening elsewhere as well and there are different strategies being formed as how to cope in this turmoil. As Paul Melcher put it: “Media might be in crisis, but photography is doing just fine”. Once we accept that the daily print will not be our main source of creating a news-baseline, we have to start thinking what is. And as individual photographers, once we accept that the future is elsewhere, we have to start looking for it. Instead of dumping the prices – again – and giving more and more with no compensation to the dying dinosaurs, we start creating something new.
I am totally convinced that within 5 years images/work I produce for the print will be a small fraction of my actual work and the emphasis will be elsewhere. Actually, in my case, this is already happening – but the situation will be same for colleagues as well. It is easier trying to move to that direction when you accept that it will not get better, the print will never get back to “normal”, whatever that was. Time to move on.
And that is actually interesting. And very challenging. Trying to create something new. “To boldly go where….”
As you can feel, I am actually rather positive about this (and it’s not the medication I took – or didn’t take – this morning…) ;-) There is something to be said about the Phoenix rising from the ashes…
My favorite quote lately has been:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how how to dance in the rain”
So look around, read the signs (they are all open to see: circulation levels, ad revenues, new technologies…), draw your own conclusions, accept it – and move on. Get ahead of the curve. Unless you are retiring within couple of next years, you’ll have to go there anyway.