Just Can't Take the Effect and Make it the Cause

Well, first came an action and then a reaction

A friend of mine's dad used to run sales at one of the larger newstelevision networks in the 80's He'd tell me a story that back then, agencies would call daily (on the telephone!), say they wanted to buy commercial space and ask for the price. He'd put the palm of his hand over the receiver, close his eyes, lift his hand and name the highest price he could imagine. Sold! That was it. Easy. It always sold.

This world hasn't existed for a long time, though many have tried--and continue--to fight their way back. Content is a commodity, especially in digital publishing. Where the business used to transact around content, the product is now mostly top of funnel to drive customers to do something they feel is worth paying for. Some saw this early, rode the wave and then crashed with it onto shore. Some still won't admit it, and will deal with their ill-fated destiny soon-ish. Either way, it's a game of reality, where agility and foresight keep you standing upright.

I worked in the news business for a while and was always amazed by the compounding friction between those that create the product and those that sell it. Whereas my buddy's dad in the 80s had an easy product to sell, today's product doesn't have that demand. And instead of adjusting, the principles of news media become more deeply rooted causing ongoing frustration between the two sides of the business equation.

"This is worth paying for!"

"Well no one is paying for it!"

"Do better at your job"

"No, you do better!"

It leaves me thinking a lot of things. One is, the notion of news as a business and the reality of advertiser interest and subscriber interest. Both are bleak unless there's something worth paying for. The New York Times drove this shift particularly well. As did Axios. Another is the budget "necessary" to provide these services, and create news media that's so critical to the people. The markets tell you what they think faster than ever. If you have something worth a customer's money, they'll pay. If you have to convince an advertiser over and over again why they should spend money with you, it may be time to take the hint. Blaming the advertiser for not supporting the platform is a you problem, not them. Programmatic advertising loosened that friction between both sides. But the creators and customers hated it. This is a business after all.

The situation today is a result of constant change over the past three decades. Though time and time again, it feels the willingness to take risk and embrace the change in not in traditional news media DNA. We can tell people it's critical. Or that a world without it is a bad world. But the reality is, we are learning quickly that they hasn't and likely will not work.

A friend of mine told me that there's always excitement and opportunity in the future of publishing and the future of payments. I agree, and commit a ton of time trying to figure it out. As the tide rises around the few traditional brands left, they should ask themselves if they're excited about that too? And if so, what are they going to do about it?

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