50 Years of Irrational Exuberance
Assuming that we are all adults here, it is time for a frank and honest conversation about the future of print. Never have I proposed the death of print, not even its near death. That is not happening and will not happen any time soon. But, my goodness! we do need to collect our thoughts and maintain some sobriety. Both Samir and Mr. Dead Tree have published recent articles about this non-death. Samir calls it, "the amplification of print in a digital age." I can live with that. But in my judgment the exuberance needs to tempered just a bit with the flip side of reality.
Below in a chart produced by Dr. Joe Webb is the problem as I see it. Even with all this exciting "amplification," where is the MONEY? As an industry, printed books, magazines, and newspapers have been non-stop losing revenue year in and year out since 2007. I am fine with all the brouhaha that this title and that title went from the web to print. I am ecstatic that some titles are being revived, and I think it is more than wonderful that there are new titles each and every year. But the money, that revenue that feeds our children, is diminishing - maybe not for all, but clearly for many and maybe, according to the chart, for most.
I believe there is, in fact, a bottom line somewhere where printed products as an industry will do just fine, but we aren't there yet. I ask you, is this a chart to brag by? If you saw this chart at your Wall Street broker's office, would you buy this stock to secure your family's mortgage?
I have stated many times that aggregated data doesn't reflect single titles and that there are many successes that we can and should brag about as an industry. But those are singular cases and NOT reflective of the industry as a whole.
We are in this industry for many reasons - some for the passion, some for the honors and some for the accolades - but we are also here to make a living. That is why from time to time I bring up this sobering topic. Along with the other pundits' enthusiasm must come the maturity and the understanding that we are losing economic ground year in and year out, until that moment in time when finally we don't. We had 50 years of irrational exuberance and no competition to speak of. We are now paying the price for that exuberance in greatly diminished revenues, falling circulations on the newsstand and in the homes as subscriptions, and we will do so as an industry until we reach a level of sustainability.
Success has always been traditionally measured by the antique term we used to call profit, and to the best of my knowledge, although there are great individual publishing achievements we can all point to, as an industry we are not there yet, not even close.