BoSacks: The Profit Prophet
In the past few months, I have been to a half-dozen trade shows and dozens of publishing houses. I have had conversations with all types of vendors to our industry and ad agencies that contribute to supporting the information-distribution system. Lately, I have noticed the resurgence of a common question: Does the next generation actually read? It is still an excellent question, and one worth thinking about.
Part of the equation is that we have created a generation of instant-gratification seekers. Reading an in-depth article in a newspaper or magazine does not provide instant gratification. Reading a book takes time and effort. You have to work at reading, and then actually think about drawing your own conclusions. Coming to a conclusion takes brain power and focused energy. It appears that these are not qualities we have wholeheartedly encouraged in this new generation. Every child who plays a sport these days gets a trophy. I believe that some things in life actually have to be earned rather than just given with little or no merit. Some things need to be striven for to be appreciated. How else do you achieve triumph? If we reward everything in a child’s life, then perhaps nothing is worth working hard for.
When you bring 21st-century media into the instant gratification mix, with products like PlayStations, TiVos, the Web, PDAs, iPods and 24/7 smart cell-phone activity, you might just get a snapshot of the future of reading. “Screenagers’” brains are truly never at rest, but also seem to never have the focused staying power to dwell on anything thought-provoking for any length of time. All rewards and no sweat makes for an interesting and hard-to-capture consumer base.
What Type of “Readers” Will This Breed?
This seems to be a dangerous formula of information discharge. I see that failure manifesting itself in the screenager generation’s lack of long-form readership. I stated in a previous column that this wireless generation does read, and I still hold that to be true. They just read differently than past generations. They read in “word blocks,” sort of like sound bites without the audio. But what genuine depth of any given topic can you get from a sound bite? Is the same lack of depth true for a word block?
If current statistics are accurate and reading continues to plummet, not only are publishers in trouble, but also, perhaps, is a whole generation. I’m not suggesting that I have the answers to this phenomenon, but it does seem worth pondering and trying to understand.
I pose the following rhetorical questions to anyone in the media business:
1. What are the societal changes that technology has manifested into our reading habits and, consequently, into our businesses?
2. What are the next technological changes going to do to the current trends of reading and information distribution?
3. If the current and next publishing platforms don’t have WiFi, audio, video and become constantly updatable, will they have any traction with the screenager generation?
4. What will be an accurate definition of a publisher in the next 10 years? How about 20?
I don’t think these are idle questions for today’s content providers to think about. Information technology has changed the world before and will do so gain.
In today’s digital world, size doesn’t matter; rather, the magic it performs is what counts. The rapid change in technology is speeding up, and the ease of getting word blocks as a source of information is increasing. The screenagers are ours. The technology is ours. The next publishing business plan is yours. PE
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.