Blank is Dead!

Pundits love death. They’re forever proclaiming the death of this or that.

It’s dramatic and authoritative.

So over the last decade we’ve been told:

Newspapers are dead.

Books are dead.

TV is dead.

Advertising is dead.

Of course all these industries have undergone radical change over the last 10 years, but name an industry that hasn’t.

And radical change is far from death but nowhere near as dramatic.

Newspapers generated an estimated $179 billion in circulation and advertising revenue in 2014, according to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. That’s bigger than the film or music industry. Yes, many papers have closed or consolidated but a $179 billion death? Bring it on!

Book sales in the UK totalled 245 million in 2014 (up from 237 million back in 2008). True, 63 million of these were e-books, but there are still 2,500 bookshops serving the country. Furthermore e-book sales appear to have plateaued. Makes sense to me. Who wants to spend more time looking at a screen?

TV may get beat up the most of these examples. Mobile video is eating its lunch in spite of being dogged by scandal. Netflix is eating its dinner but it’s not a horrible dinner guest because it’s also paying the networks millions for rights to shows.

With everyone taking their bite you’ll probably be surprised to hear TV revenues are still growing to $71.1 billion this year and $81 billion projected in 2019. TV may be a mess but reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Global Advertising revenues increased from $438 billion in 2009 to $611 billion in 2015. That’s a tad under a 40% increase in 6 years. Yes, much of the spending is going into digital and lots of traditional agencies got caught out but if this is death, bring it on!

It’s not what Keats had in mind, but the line fits: “Now more than ever seems it rich to die!*”

I imagine there were people around 1950 watching the ascendancy of television convinced that radio was dead.

Which will come as news to Howard Stern who just signed a new 5-year contract with Sirius XM worth a rumoured $400 million plus.

And many people have proclaimed the death of the buggy-whip industry, which has long been used as an example of failure to adapt to a changing marketplace.

But guess what, if you need a buggy whip you can still buy one!

From which we can surmise that while the industry may have been in a coma it cheated death.

And if the buggy whip industry still has a handhold, however tenuous, it would seem very few industries die completely.

Not that you'd know it from the Blank is Dead brigade.

It’s not the hyperbole I object to, it’s the lazy bandwagonism masquerading as thought leadership.

Guess there really is a sucker born every minute.

It’s the circle of life!


* I added the exclamation...

Once Upon a Startup

It’s a familiar story. A couple of Yale grads rent a Lower East Side garret.

All they have is an idea.

They start working the phones to raise $100,000 in starting capital.

If their idea works, it will revolutionize media.

The young men are opposites in almost every way.

Brit is a bon vivant, prodigious, charismatic, and mercurial.

Henry is more reserved, a geek, and a bit of a bean-counter.

Together they make a formidable team.

The well-connected young men call everyone they know.

Friends, friends of friends, old college buddies, parents of old college buddies.

Almost everyone says no, but they keep calling.

After 18 months of pleading, cajoling and outright begging they’ve raised $85,675 and they decide to take the plunge.

In March, 1923 the first issue of Time magazine rolls off the presses.

No one has seen anything like it.

Time is a weekly news-magazine in an era where news is the domain of daily papers.

A lot of papers, in 1870 there were around 600 dailies in America, by 1900 there were over 2000.

And new media is exploding too.

From 1920 to 1922 over new 500 radio stations would start broadcasting.

The public are suffering from information overload.

And Time provides an imaginative solution.

Brit Haden and Henry Luce promise a magazine the busy businessman can read in an hour to stay informed.

Time has stumbled on aggregation, rewriting the important stories of the day in a snappy new journalese that came to be known as Timestyle.

Under Haddon’s inspired editorship it was often fun, and always fresh.

But originality does not always guarantee popularity.

The first issue bombed, subsequent issues struggled.

Sometimes Haddon had to resort to sending creditors cheques he had “forgotten” to sign.

But Luce and Hadden were tenacious.

By the end of 1923 Time had a few thousand subscribers.

By the end of 1924 the magazine boasted over 70,000 subscribers and turned a small profit.

It became a publishing sensation.

A couple of weeks after his 31st birthday, Briton Hadden died.

The bon viveur had long ago crossed over into alcoholism.

He caught an infection he couldn’t fight off and a few days later he was dead.

In an eerie pre-shadowing of Zuckerberg and Saverin falling out at Facebook,Luce set about erasing Haddon’s reputation as a founder of Time.

As Wikipedia acknowledges:

“Luce took Hadden's name off the masthead of Time within two weeks of his death. In the next 38 years, he delivered more than 300 speeches around the world, mentioning Hadden four times. Throughout his life, Luce repeatedly claimed credit for Hadden's ideas.”

Some 80 years later while media has changed beyond recognition, the size of founder’ ego seems to be a constant.

It would take 40 years, and Luce’s death, before Haddon’s name was restored to its rightful place on Time’s masthead.

When Time merged with Warner Communications in 1989, Time Warner was the world’s largest media company.