David Carr: Chronicler of the Incursion
In his latest media column, The New York Times' David Carr does a good job of connecting the dots between two significant media announcements. Time Inc. said last week that it will play by Apple's rules when it comes to selling single copies through the iOS newsstand platform. The Huffington Post released its new online weekly magazine, which Carr points out "a few years ago we wouldn’t have even called … a magazine"—though I like to remember that TV's 60 Minutes has always called itself a magazine.
As Carr notes, the transformations at hand no longer seem worthy of debating—they are simply reality, regardless of how one feels about them or what may be left behind. Steve Jobs, as he says, has posthumously won the argument about selling magazines on mobile. The aggregation debate is now about how, rather than whether, sites like the Huffington Post will utilize the wealth of the Web to present a first and best package of news and opinion to the masses.
But there is one more wrinkle amid the normalization of digital first. Who's making money, and how much? Does Arianna's Pulitzer translate into profit? Newspapers, it's been said, enjoyed mini-monopolies over the flow of information in their local fiefdoms for so long, harvesting the fruits of overwhelming market share, there was no way they could navigate the changes wrought by the wide open Web. They simply were not built to compete that way. Which leaves the question: who is? Will HuffPo and Patch be profitable for AOL? Can The New York Times offset ad revenue declines with its paywall? Can Time Inc. survive replacing real newsstands with virtual ones?
Carr, who combines an eyes-wide-open view of the changes roiling publishing with a curmudgeon's skepticism about the new word (sic) order, reveals much of his own attitude in the title of his piece: "Digital Media’s Ever-Swifter Incursion." An incursion is not a friendly move, and Carr clearly sees recent trends as threatening. Given all the recent news about newspaper cutbacks and layoffs, it's hard to blame him. But, as today's digital natives like to say, it is what it is.