Media Changes and The Writer

The other day, a copy of the new Yellow Pages and phone directory was delivered to our house.  As I picked it up off the front step, I was reminded it has been years since I even looked at one.

The recycling container has it now.

I suppose I will regret tossing it if I lose internet access for a long time, or if I need to level a wobbly table, but the fact a Yellow Pages edition is still produced is an interesting example of an old communications medium hanging on for its last few breaths.

Not too many years ago, a small business, which didn’t advertise in the Yellow Pages, was considered out of touch and destined to fail. Today, the standard is a website and social media.

All media is in a constant state of change and the changes are happening more rapidly as time goes on.

A few years ago, the total advertising revenue at Google surpassed the advertising revenue of the entire newspaper industry in the United States. The newspaper industry, which was once one of the most powerful forces in our society, was bypassed by one company.

Newspapers are now a shadow of their former selves.

Here are some items to consider and reflections, which can be helpful in deciding how to view media of the future:

  • Newspaper use and revenues are in significant decline. Mergers create a few super-newspapers, but smaller papers will continue to decline and disappear.
  • Younger people will not read newspapers to any significant extent and the clock is ticking on the industry as its readership dies off, literally.
  • Online news and social media are the newspapers of the future.
  • Newspapers will disappear while still having a good number of subscribers, just not enough to sustain the operation. A bankrupt newspaper might have 100,000 subscribers, but if it needs 120,000 to achieve financial breakeven and advertisers are spending money elsewhere the writing is on the wall.
  • Print magazine readership and revenues are generally in decline, but are holding on longer because each has a specific niche and purpose. They have a future but it is a constant evolving future. Online components of the print edition are very important.
  • eBook sales have flattened over the last few years. eBooks have not been around long enough to make any permanent judgments about their future. The technology is less than ten years old. Predictions about eBooks replacing print editions were made too quickly. No one has any idea what eBooks will be five years from now.
  • A significant majority of eBooks are read on devices other than dedicated eBook readers.
  • Social media in one form or another is here to stay. It is the way people communicate worldwide.
  • There will be something new in social media, which will revolutionize the category. I don’t know what it is, but technological advances usually leapfrog over existing things. Nothing stays #1 for long.
  • The Internet is the most important thing for all media. It is the highway on which everything runs.
  • Our experience with media in the United States gives no insight into global media trends. We are neither the leader or follower. We are the exception to what the rest of the world is experiencing.
  • Smart phones are the global media device of the present and future.

In a fast changing world, we tend to rush to judgment on whether something is truly a long-term trend, which we must adjust to or a fad we watch with amusement for a time until it fades away. The Internet is just over 20 years old and it runs everything. I can’t imagine what will be happening in another 20 years.

For creators of content, you authors and writers, be acutely aware of how media morphs and changes because media is the receptacle for your work.  Watch the trends, adjust and create inspired material for whatever media container is best for your message.

Everything does not need a book.

Some things should be articles or blogs.

Some things should be free.

Some things should not be free.

Shorter content is not always better.

Longer content is not always better.

Write for the container and the consumer.

But first, study the containers and how they constantly change.

And don’t be disappointed when your favorite newspaper or Yellow Pages are only available online. The end is near for them.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

17 Responses to Media Changes and The Writer

  1. Diana Harkness January 17, 2017 at 5:33 am #

    This is scary. Without the Fourth Estate, who will bring in-depth and accurate reporting? Not everyone will read a book on a subject and a well-researched book takes years to get into print. Newspapers have an ethical and journalistic policy which may keep them from fabricating news or failing to verify facts. There is nothing that compels a blogger, online “news” site, or anyone else without a journalism degree to exercise journalistic integrity. We cannot lose journalists and newspapers. Last year, my favorite magazine folded (Books & Culture). Computer screens are fine for short reads, maybe a page or 2. Kindle books are great, easy to carry, comfortable to use, but not for research where I move back and forth within a volume. Some things cannot disappear without a sad loss of an informed society. And you know what? I could live without the internet and some technology, but only if I had another source of accurate, verifiable information.

    • Carol Ashby January 17, 2017 at 9:38 am #

      Diane, I read both a print newspaper and online news from both left and right orientations. What I observe is that slanted reporting occurs about equally in both media. If you want to get near the “truth,” read the online reporting of both philosophical camps and try to figure out where facts end and interpretations start. Almost every time I read a news article about something I know extremely well, they get some major part of it wrong.

      It isn’t the media in which the news appears but the education of its writers that will degrade news content in the future. It is impossible on most college campuses today to be exposed to both sides of an issue and engage in thoughtful debate. Too often we read that some student protest has caused the cancellation of a speaker because someone might be offended by their mere presence on campus without even knowing the details of what they will say. A professor can be refused tenure or hounded out of a college for not extolling the politically correct line. The journalists of tomorrow are being brainwashed today into thinking that is acceptable and even good. That will not produce reporters whose writing can be trusted.

      I grieve not the decline of print but the rejection of objectivity and the denial of uncomfortable truths.

    • Dan Balow January 17, 2017 at 9:41 am #

      The Fourth Estate still exists, but certainly not in the same form as it did a couple decades ago.

      Every major city had at least two newspapers and they worked hard to beat the other and be difference from competition. Now, every city has thousands of people vying to be heard and the result is a mind-numbing jumble of good journalism, bad editorializing, self-serving press releases and now, actual fake news.

      I can’t imagine what is discussed in Journalism 101 classes in college these days!

  2. Tonia Woolever January 17, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    Your article contains the most helpful advice I’ve read in ages, sir. As a writer coming out of a season of dormancy (to take care of family) and a bit disoriented by the evolving publishing landscape, you cleared the air for me beautifully. And effectively flicked my target needle, which had become stuck on “book.” Printing this out to keep in front of me while I learn new habits in evaluating what to do with all that stuff I want to say. Thank you so much.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 17, 2017 at 7:26 am #

    The Internet cuts both ways. It allowed me to think of myself as a writer, and I have learned that self-deception is the devil’s cruelest irony.

    • Carol Ashby January 17, 2017 at 9:41 am #

      No self-deception there, Andrew. I’ve read enough of your work that I’d testify under oath that you’re a writer and even a good one.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser January 17, 2017 at 10:40 am #

        Carol, thank you.

        A trip to CPR-land does shake one’s meaning and confidence.

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee January 17, 2017 at 8:15 am #

    Thanks for the warning! Your points are very well-taken. I can’t remember the last time I did anything with a phone book, other than tossing it in the re-cycle bin.

  5. Becky January 17, 2017 at 8:25 am #

    Where’s the nearest bus? I’m very attached to my phone book.

  6. Robert Wilkerson January 17, 2017 at 9:09 am #

    I fully believe what you have said is true. Which means that writing and publishing will continue to be difficult and will require change and adaptation.

  7. Jay Payleitner January 17, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    Hmm. “Write for the container.” I’m not so sure about that, Dan. I think we need to write truth the audience needs to hear. How it’s delivered is secondary.

    An individual may access ideas via cave etchings, campfire storytelling, papyrus, Gutenberg’s press, Heidelberg offset, digitally on tablets, audio through earbuds, telepathically through Vulcan mind meld, or some other unimaginable way.

    Content is king. Marshall McLuhan was wrong, the media is not the message.

    I may be totally off . . . but I believe great writing will find an audience.

    • Dan Balow January 17, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      I agree, but if you want to write a 70,000 word article and get it in a magazine, the container will say “no” to you. Write great of course, but each media has requirements and limits which will dictate the content and how it is written.

      You don’t put 1,000 words on a billboard or nine words in a book.

      • Jay Payleitner January 17, 2017 at 10:43 am #

        I think the world needs more thousand-word billboards. And nine-word books.

        Maybe that’s what I’m still a struggling best-selling author.

  8. Deetje Wildes January 17, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    This sentence bothers me:
    “Everything does not need a book.”
    I think my High School English teacher would have circled it in red.
    If I had written this blog, I would have said:
    “Not everything needs a book.”
    Please explain.

    • Dan Balow January 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

      Everything does not need a book.


      • Henry Styron January 18, 2017 at 9:49 am #

        Mr. Grammar Nerd to the rescue!

        Both sentences are syntactically correct, although “not everything needs a book” would be the more conventional ordering. Had your English teacher circled something similar in red you would have been within your rights to question where the error was.

        Picture it this way. If “not everything needs a book” is correct, then “everything needs a book” is also fine. “Everything does need a book” is grammatically equivalent, just written a trifle more formally. Placing the adverbial “not” in between “does” and “need” of course reverses the meaning, but is still sound sentence structure. I imagine Mr. Balow chose the word order for emphasis.

        Hope this helps.

  9. Carol Ashby January 17, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    So true Dan. Every good mechanic knows that having the right tool for the job gets you to the desired result much quicker.

    The biggest problem, as I see it, is getting the intended audience to find what you’re trying to share. The internet has made that possible, but certainly not easy with the cataract of info that can overwhelm even a diligent searcher. Discoverability is key no matter what format you use.

    Hardcopy is never going to disappear completely. You don’t need to charge any batteries, and when the next big solar flare fries all the electronics and takes down the power grid, people will still be able to read hardcopy by firelight.

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