Media Holdouts In The Digital Age

The Economist writes about media’s analogue holdouts and how they may be missing out on some awesome digital benefits:

They have some good reasons. Online advertising is worth much less than television or print advertising. It is hard to persuade people to pay much (if anything) for digital content. Technology firms such as Amazon and Apple can often set retail prices. Digital products can be less beautiful than physical ones.

But such gripes are widespread in the media industry. They must be set against the fact that digital distribution is a low-cost way of reaching huge audiences. What is more, refusing to go online is a sure way to alienate many potential customers. So why do the analogue holdouts hold out?

It comes down to different strokes for different folks.

While an online presence may be “low-cost” in the overall scheme of things, cheaper than print, cheaper than smoke signals, etc, it still is a cost. You have to pay for the site and someone to maintain it, not just posting new content but policing any interactive areas. When ad revenue from websites is so much less than print, a firm has to decide if it can at the very least pay for itself but that comes after an initial investment that may not be worth the effort.

Beyond that, if you’re providing a product that is dependent upon sales in order to remain in operation, why are you doing to give it away online? This mainly applies to specialty products, niche targeted items that don’t provide services easily found elsewhere. Washington Post can’t afford to fall behind New York Times online in regards to its national coverage, but a women’s weekly magazine with a solid subscriber base can keep itself merely focused on print as long as it provides quality content unavailable elsewhere. Giving it away online in the hopes that someone will then decide to subscribe to the print (as the article suggests) is a frightening prospect when most companies would fear losing a number of already existing subscriptions to their now free online service.

Beyond news, the article suggests the Beatles could really benefit from a digital catalog and that whoever convinces them to do it will make a boatload of money. While true, the Beatles aren’t hurting for money or sales of the physical copies of their music. Here you’re talking about a brand that is so hugely popular that it has no need to go digital in order to reach masses it might not otherwise. Every music store carries the Beatles catalog and any number of “best of” compilations to saturate the market. If someone wakes up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat because they just HAVE to hear Come Together or they’ll never sleep again, Walmart is right around the corner with three different CDs to choose from.

The internet is hardly one size fits all and not all people absolutely have to be in a rush to get online and digitize their content that they’d otherwise charge for. There’s a reason newspapers are flipping out over how to make money. In their rush to be ahead of the digital curve they completely removed their at one time profit base and helped breed a society now used to getting the news for free. To suggest others need to rush to do the same is drinking the digital Kool Aid without first having it pass the sniff test.

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