Meditations on Dying Media


A few links I found to be thought-provoking reads:

First up, how newspapers have cannibalized their own sales. Like magazines before them, single-copy sales have practically disappeared as publishers raise prices drastically in order to combat declining readership. But that’s a stupid idea, because you drive existing customers away and you prevent new ones from easily trying your product.

Publishers have applied the same pricing theory to both home delivery and single-copy selling over the last four years or so: Get a lot more money from somewhat fewer readers, and come out financially ahead overall. In revenue, the theory has worked, driving flat-to-positive circulation revenue in a time of declining subscriber bases — though publishers’ pricing power may have peaked quite quickly. Look at a company like Gannett, whose circulation revenue was down 0.9 percent for 2014, despite — or because of — some of the most aggressive price increases in industry.

… In general, the greater percentage price increase, the greater the loss in volume… What’s happened in newspaper pricing is that too many publishers have doubled their prices while halving the size, and quality, of their products.

Newspapers need readers more than readers need them, given all the other information sources (of similar quality and often cheaper) easily available. I wish they wouldn’t be so quick to try and milk them — that strategy didn’t work for other media. I still get our newspaper, mainly because I like the local headlines, the restaurant coverage, and the sudoku puzzle, but last time I took one to work to read over lunch, several people remarked on how they hadn’t seen anyone reading a paper in a while. That’s a terrible sign, as comics well knows. (The local paper tried to put in place 50% and higher price raises, but I simply cancelled home delivery for a week, then took them up on a deep-discount “new reader” offer. It’s rather like dealing with the cable company, which is not a flattering comparison.)


Meanwhile, the New York Times is worried about what the loss of print and other physical media is doing to our children.

Aside from the disappearance of record crates and CD towers, the loss of print books and periodicals can have significant repercussions on children’s intellectual development.

You can’t share digital content with family members or friends as easily. Seeing the items is educational, while digital content tends to be invisible. You can find more that way, but only if you already know to look for it. So it’s harder to share favorites with others.

Last, here’s a meditation on the death of the video store. I’ve talked about this before, but I miss the curatorial aspect of well-run video or record stores. There’s very little proximity online, no “if you like this, you might like that” because something’s in the same section or appears similar. No helpful guides who’ve put a lot of thought into what to stock or sell. This guy worked in a video store for 25 years, and he’s learned some lessons from it:

With online streaming, we don’t decide — we settle. And when we aren’t grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films.

… Not everything that was on VHS made the transition to DVD, and not every movie on DVD is available to stream. The decision to leave a movie behind on the next technological leap is market-driven, which makes video stores the last safety net for things our corporate overlords discard.

There are still a couple of things I want to see that I’ve never been able to find, not even illegally. I should try looking in the dusty corners of the local video store, since Madison still does have a couple, while I still can.


  • David Oakes

    Patton Oswald’s “Everything Ever, All the Time” rant on Internet Culture breaks down pretty quick when you realize how much stuff actually isn’t there. (And then again when you realize that all the stuff that is there isn’t curated, so you have to sift through it all yourself…)

  • Brian J.

    4-Star Video still has some pretty great selections, and will do their best to order something you’re looking for if you ask.

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