The Boys of Summer and Their Predictions


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It's easy to stop thinking about the changing content landscape over the summer. The days are long and hot, and you're more worried about avoiding the heat than you are about the future of media. However, at least two prominent figures still had media on their minds and were making (sometimes outlandish) predictions.

In June, the Tribune Co.'s Sam Zell went on CNBC's Squawk Box to discuss the newspaper publisher's bankruptcy proceedings and future plans. While discussing the future of his own publishing group, Zell predicted big changes for the industry as a whole: "Going forward, it's going to require all kinds of different approaches, including-probably most significant-is the elimination of home delivery and the replacement of it with PDFs." Zell went on to praise the iPad as a delivery platform, calling it the first instance of "almost replicating a newspaper on an instrument," and predicting that Apple's tablet was only the beginning of how newspapers would evolve.

Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics and lead news analyst with Outsell, Inc., notes that although Zell has a poor record as a "prognosticator," he's probably right on the money with this one. "It's absolutely true that home delivery of printed newspapers is an anachronism," says Doctor. "And I think it's going to be exacerbated by tablet-type products." Doctor also points out that as consumers increasingly turn toward diverse sources of news, they have less time to devote to singular print sources.

Although many major newspapers have been quick to adopt the iPad as a platform, others are lagging behind. "If you look at the first iPad products, they were done by national and global news companies," says Doctor, pointing to Reuters, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. "They understand you have to create a product that's a different kind of product for tablets than you created on the web." Meanwhile, Doctor says, local papers are "nearly absent from iPad development."

Although Doctor thinks that Zell's prediction rings mostly true, he also finds it incongruous that Zell used PDFs in particular as an example of the future of newspapers. "When you use the word PDF, you're essentially thinking about the product as a print product," says Doctor. "That's how all old media thinks about digital. You have to re-envision what a news product is and not think of it as a static product."

While Sam Zell's comments look toward the future, some other media personalities are looking to the past. In a July interview with the U.K.'s Daily Mirror, Minnesota-born musician Prince declared that the internet is "completely over" and indicated that his new album would not be offered for download through any online service. "I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else," complained Prince. "They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it."

Although prominent musicians directing their ire at the internet is nothing new, the move is a notable change of opinion for Prince, who was among the first major artists to release a full album entirely online and even received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for embracing the internet as a medium. He even went so far as to shut down his official website. So will other musicians follow suit and begin demanding advances from online retailers?

Kirk Biglione, new-media consultant and co-founder of the blog Medialoper, doesn't think so. "I don't think it's reasonable to expect digital media retailers to pay an artist [an] advance," says Biglione. "Would he expect Best Buy or Walmart to pay an advance in order to sell the [CD]? Retailers do not have the same financial relationship with artists that record labels do."

Biglione also doesn't lend much credence to Prince's remarks about the internet as a medium, pointing out that they coincide with a promotion for his latest CD, which is being distributed for free through some newspapers-including the Daily Mirror. In Biglione's opinion, the comments were designed to create hype for the album and the giveaway.

"Of course, the real irony here is that Prince's new album will be widely available in a digital format through various pirate sources," says Biglione. "The problem is consumers won't have any way to pay for it. That's just bad business. Prince is supposed to be smarter than that."

(www.itunes.com; www.mirror.co.uk)