50 years ago, anyone who wanted to sell a house, a car, or advertise a job, had very little choice other than to pay the enormous costs of advertising demanded by newspapers. And anyone looking for a job, a house, a car, had very little choice but to continue to buy newspapers until they found what they wanted … by which time they probably needed something else. So, newspapers were rolling in money from advertising and likewise there was plenty of money for journalists to actively go out and research news.
Then, along came linotype printing, which dramatically reduced the cost and quality of printing enabling specialist magazines like autotrader (which funded the Guardian). These took away some advertising revenue, but then the real calamity came: the internet. Suddenly, anyone who wanted to buy or sell could go to online sites like ebay which asked a fraction of the costs of traditional newspapers and the result is advertising revenue for newspapers plummeted. The result that journalists were let loose in their hoards. The result was papers started being run on a shoe string, so that most of the journalists left had no time or money to do real investigative journalism and instead resorted to copy-n-pasting press releases. That meant that so long as the originator had even vaguely credible credentials (like an academic) they could get whatever non-science press releases they wanted into the media. That in turn fed a raft of non-science campaigns like the climate cult & anti-fracking and generally let to a proliferation of “fake news”.
But as a result of the huge cost cutting, over the last couple of decades, the press has been quietly changing. Many local papers that used to do real journalism have effectively folded to become regionalised syndicated snooze-papers carrying much the same articles across whole areas with a bare smattering of local material. Others locals have had to stop trying to be daily papers and moved to weekly, and others closed entirely.
However, apart from the independent (now a glorified blog), the names in the national press in Britain has very much the same names as it did from before the internet. Given the dramatic changes in local news, the lack of change at the national level can’t be sustainable.
This article is my attempt to think through what is likely to happen.
Key predictable Points
In no particular order …
Whilst the internet hit the news, the UK press and media is so dominated by the BBC that its fate affects the whole market.
The Biased Corp still dominates TV & it created a huge internet presence, but I have noted increasing pressure on it from politicians & public due to its bias. And, indeed, the fact that it has become increasingly & blatantly biased, seems to me to be a symptom of its decline. Because it demonstrate a lack of importance: people no longer care what the Biased corp says, because most who used to care are no longer watching, and those that are, can go elsewhere to get a more impartial view of the world.
The biased corp is in a death spiral – the more biased in becomes, the more it puts off people who reject its bias, they move elsewhere, the remaining audience is even less concerned about its bias and so the more it feels it can be biased, with the result it is becoming increasingly extremist in its views.
As such it seems impossible that the present licence fee funding can remain in the long term. My own view is that the Biased Corp is going to suffer perhaps a decade of continuing cuts until it is of no value to politicians or public and then it will be largely sold off. This will dramatically change the UK media, removing this increasingly obnoxious politicised brainwashing, but also leaving a hole in the market for commercial companies catering to the same public sector niche.
Paradoxically, given the Guardian is currently on a long sustained journey toward bankruptcy (having spent its fossil fuel fund from Autotrader), the demise of the Biased Corp will create a gap in the market which fits the Guardian snugly. So, bizarrely, the faster the Biased Corp fades, the less chance of the Guardian going under. This I think will be the way things will go: papers like the Guardian will increasingly focus on niche markets that may appear to be of little value in any one country, but given that they can reach globally to very similar markets, supplying much the same bullshit to all the gullible people worldwide, they could make a business of it.
So, I think papers that survive into the future, will also tend to focus on niche, but often global markets. The guardian on numpty gullible public sector. The Times or telegraph on business. More than likely other papers that succeed will find a way to sell basically the same “sex drugs rock and roll” news to niche markets in many different countries worldwide. Others, will focus on local news, others perhaps on niches that we can barely imagine existing at present but on a global basis they become viable. This means we are likely to see a whole series of cross border mergers with newspaper groups focussed on specific market niches becoming global. The overall employment will go down, the overall news content will decrease, but the average reader will see far more “interesting” news albeit an increasing content from outwith their own country.
Another form of market differentiation will be on size. In the past, the cost economics dictated a minimum size of paper to be economically viable. The rise of the internet smashed that limit and made “papers” with only a few journalists quite viable. As such, the huge growth area has been, and will continue to be, small independent niche publications which will continue to erode the market of the big papers and TV channels.
Totally new media
But we still are thinking in the old mindset of “snoozepapers” and TV. In the new world of online games, and social media, news is not separated from these very different forms of entertainment. So, as a simple example, whilst playing a game of simulated life, why couldn’t part of that simulated life, contain actual current news? I’m not so much suggesting that as a real possibility, only pointing out that the traditional idea of a newspaper as a distinct publication is no longer necessary in the new virtual worlds. And, indeed, perhaps the ability to supply news, and more importantly to create profit from supplying news in new media, will be the great opportunities of the future.
Pay walled news
Just as when supermarkets came along, most people no longer wanted to pay to get individually served, but went for self-service, so on the internet, most people are content to find and select their own news without having it spoon-fed with a lot of personal opinion added in by a highly paid and very politicised journalist.
However … just as some people never went away from personal service and paid through the nose to get tailor made suits, so some people will always be willing to pay someone else to avoid having to do the work of finding their own news. This is of course the target group of those papers like the Times which now demand payment for their services. Expensive Journalists are there to provide tailor made news … to people with enough money not to care that they are being spoon-fed someone else’s biased opinions.
Every newspaper in really just a glorified blog, so there is no real distinction. However, there was a massive growth of “bloggers” when the internet came, meaning new, micro-publishing. Most of these are not commercially viable, and instead they are just hobby sites. However, whilst the readership may be very small, together as a sector, the combined readership and influence is massive. However, I suspect that many “blogs” will grow and grow until they are indistinguishable from the newspapers like the Independent that had to shrink to stay alive. When that happens, the result will be a continuum of publishing that spans the whole range of scales from the one man part-time blogger, to the mult-national corp.
One of the great changes in publishing occurred when sites began being able to show and be paid by adverts from Google. However, Google abused their position and started pushing political views and even denying publicity to the very blogs that carried its advertising. But more importantly, it is technically very easy to work with those like bloggers to create an advertising empire. As such, there is not a chance in hell of Google remaining the market leader in that sector in the long run. Other advertising wholesalers will arise and because they will pay more than Google & be interested in profit and not pushing Google’s nutty politics, they will quickly INCREASE the payment to bloggers and other content providers.
As such, I expect, in the long term to see micro-blogging become far more tenable as a way of making money. However, things have moved on from the blogging revolution, so I suspect that the great growth when Google eventually loses it paedophile like grip on the internet is unlikely to be in traditional blogging, but in more bespoke channels which have grown up.
As I have watched my own children grow up, I have increasingly become aware, and even at times concerned, that they are not watching enough – on in some cases, ANY TV. As such, it seems to me, that TV as a way of delivering entertainment is very much a dying channel. Yes, older people still do use the television, and the biased corps children’s TV has become a de facto child minding service for many parents. But if my children are even remotely typical, the new generations will not even be buying TVs, let alone paying licenses to the biased corp.
What is also obvious, is that with the massive increase in advertising on free-to-view channels, we have stopped watching adverts. Usually we sit down with a PC and pause the TV during adverts and start looking at the PC. We then skip the adverts, or indeed, sometimes, we don’t go back to the TV at all. I know the adverts pay for the programs, but seriously! Some programs now consist of more adverts than content.
It’s also obvious that the quality of programs have massively deteriorated. The only time there is anything worth watching is when a film company is pushing previous versions of a film in order to get people to pay to view the latest release.
Put simply, social media and the internet is now far more interesting than watching TV, and I usually turn on the TV, only when I’m too tired to make the effort to find something interesting on the internet.
The Biased corp are going, the rest is utter rubbish which cannot be earning much given how easy it is to bypass their endless advertising. As such, who are they actually advertising to? Anyone with any money has the means to bypass the adverts, which means the only people the advertisers are reaching are those without the money to buy their goods. The TV is now filled with funeral adds (presumably aimed at people in old age homes). Like the main viewers and the Biased Corp, I think free TV, as we have in the UK, is on the way out.
Yes, I can still see that a communal screen may serve a function in a household, but increasingly it will be airing online content from people like Netflix.
A very effective strategy by some media moguls has been the total buy up of some sports channels. Fortunately as I have not the slightest interest in sports, this has not affected me, but I can see the same strategy being used to buy up film rights, or indeed, something similar happened with academic papers (£30 to view a paper that was already paid for out of public money LOL!)
Many have got very rich by getting a monopoly over some forms of entertainment. As such, there is every reason to see this approach becoming ever more widespread wherever it is possible. However, the bi-product of milking those who are addicted to one form of entertainment is to encourage and nurture alternatives. As such, the very insidious tactics of screwing the public in one sector, will create a burgeoning variety of new entertainment forms and content. To put it simply, the next few decades will be a paradise of opportunity for the niche interest as those who follow the “crowd” get fleeced for their gullibility.
- New search engines (given the politicised bias of Google, this cannot be far away)
- New advertising channels for blogs (again given the behaviour of Google, this is not far away)
- A growth in “blogging” until it matches & exceeds some newspapers
- A decline in newspapers until they either go out of business or are smaller than some “blogs”
- The diversification of “newspapers” as they increasingly grow to service specific & usually global niches
- Specialist “local” newspapers (delivering the same news to many local areas with the minimal cost of actual “local” news)
- The growth in new media formats (so for the rise of blogs – take it to read “something similar on many different possible formats”)
- New “news” providers
- New and more diverse monopolies. Yes I hate them, but someone is going to realise they can buy up whole interest sectors and force people to pay through the nose.
- Alternatives to bypass the monopolies.
- A commercial replacement for the Biased Corp
- Paywalled, “tailor made” publishing & media of all scales
- The rise of micro-payments to enable small-scale paywalled sites.
- TVs. that are no longer TVs … but instead are large screens providing family viewing of content that we now consider comes from the PC.
Mobiles and other new delivery channels
Does it matter that people use mobiles? It does, in the sense that Google have yet again used this as a way to make themselves money and push their politics. But realistically, that will not last for ever. Instead, because Google distorts the market & politics, people will find a way around the Google stranglehold. So over the long term, Google’s political bias will only affect Google’s profits, and not the diversity that is available to consumers. Instead, the main affect of mobiles had been the change of format and where content is viewed which is not dramatically different.
In contrast, what may completely revolutionise printing and broadcasting, is when these become part of everyday things like car entertainment systems or even fridge display panels. At that point, there will be a whole new experience with a very different way of interacting with devices with an extreme variety of delivery formats and mind boggling choices in terms of content providers. Given the bias of Google and their reliance on the power of monopoly to force people to hand over money, they are unlikely to flourish where people have actual free choice, instead, that has long been where the free press has excelled. So, perversely just as google flourished in the days of the PC-internet, where a single search engine could come to dominate, so they are likely to fall flat on their face when the available channels of information delivery begin to diverge and proliferate into forms that we cannot imagine as yet. In that free market, the old snoozepapers, which knew how to survive in a competitive market, which have suffered so much recently, may yet again find a profitable existence whereas the monopolistic Google does not know how to survive without its monopoly.
Snippet news and advertising
The big opportunity, is in snippet news and advertising. The reason this will happen is because increasingly very mundane devices like fridges, cookers & even doorbells will be connected to the internet. Many (not all) will have the means to communicate with the user. That will obviously be primarily for the intended purpose – so a cooker display will be to set and control the cooker. But when not in use, the cooker display can be used for other purposes.
One obvious use, is to display “snippet news” … that is snippets of information of current “news”. But another way they could be used is to advertise. And, just as today, people will accept advertising in order to pay less for programs, so in the future, many people will accept advertising on everyday devices because they come at a cheaper price. Of course, they won’t initially appear as such. Instead, the “news” will be something we expect: customer information from the supplier. That will broaden to more general items like “new products available”, increasingly to “general news” and finally “general news with adverts” and then blatant adverts. To put it simply, in the future it will become acceptable to have to pay NOT to have adverts appearing in real time all over our homes.
Artificial Intelligence Journalism
Why is it that people don’t just read the press releases that journalists now just copy-n-paste? The answer is very simple: whilst journalists are increasingly irrelevant to actual journalism (which is now done by those creating the press releases), the role of journalists is increasingly as a filter of available content sources so as to tailor the news content to better match what the consumer wants (or in the case of the Guardian, what they think the reader should want).
However, there are already ways to use technology to dramatically improve the content being delivered to filter out material that they are likely to find irrelevant. In other words, to do the job of journalists. More importantly, using AI, that content can be tailor made to an individual so that in effect you get a tailor made newspaper to fit your own politics and interests. If you don’t believe, me, just think what a search engine does. In essence they are just like a journalist, trawling the available news channels and using available statistics based on who has read the content to decide where to place that content to the potential reader, and those like Google are even closer … as they totally bias the result to match the political view of the big corp.
So, there is absolutely no reason why a similar technique could not be used to tailor make a “newspaper” by trawling available content and prioritising it according to the known interests of the reader. So, in effect totally replacing the human journalist. And unlike google, there is no reason why this could not be a paid for service (with the added benefit that it will thus be far less susceptible to political bias being added by “free” providers).
When this takes off, it will totally change news. Because whereas the present organisation is based on snoozepapers that deliver a complete package to the user, the basis of AI journalism, will be to pick and choose content from available sources. So, e.g. you might get education articles from the “Guardian” and business articles from the Telegraph, mixed with local content from the local Scout group, mixed with press releases direct from your head of state. Some will be pay to view, others free to view and others paid to view. The content, cost, quality and length will be extremely varied and different for each of us.
In effect what we traditionally thought of as “journalism” (writing articles) will be mainly the present of those writing reading-to-read press releases. The present snoozepapers will increasingly become”news wholesalers” – specialising in a particular type of news, whilst the new AI journalists will take on the role of current copy-n-paste journalists in filtering laying out and delivering the news … but now to fit the precise requirements of each individual.
So, in 50 years time, there could be two people sitting on the train reading the same “Global News” newspaper, one with an “paper” filled with Marxism, feminism and yet more proof that “global warming will kill us in ten years”, the other could be reading about Monarchy, the latest business news and soft porn dressed as serious: “what women really want from a man in bed”.