Technology is born and then it dies and a new technology replaces it. This has been true since humans learned to build fire for themselves nearly 2 million years ago. Personally, I am very happy that I don’t have to strike rocks together above a pile of dry brush to cook my dinner, and can instead rely on the invention of the stove to make things more convenient. And while it may come in handy to know how to make fire for myself it isn’t a useful technology for everyday use. It is the very nature of innovation to replace a less useful thing with a more useful thing.
There is a hot debate in Louisville surrounding our city’s newspaper and how it has changed its subscription model. Designed to attempt to stave off the newspaper’s dramatic monetary losses, the Courier-Journal has increased the subscription rate for traditional subscribers in order to fortify their online content. It is the death rattle of a dying medium.
I am not without remorse. I grew up at a time when the city had two newspapers: The Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. The Courier-Journal would arrive in the morning to deliver the day’s news to my grandfather while I would devour “the funnies.” And in the afternoon the Times would show up, further informing my grandfather of the world’s goings-on, and I’d ignore it in favor of playing outside and not doing my homework. The Times is long gone, the result of changing habits and lifestyles. A new technology was delivering our news in the afternoon, cable television. CNN delivered news for hours in the evening. It was up-to-date, relevant and accessible.
The important thing to note here however is that the technology that reliably delivered the news to its consumer was replaced by a technology that was much more efficient. Because that is all a newspaper is, technology. It is a communication medium whose primary purposes are to deliver news and advertising. It just so happens that for a time, printing things on inexpensive grey paper was the best way we could do that.
The same thing is happening to daily newspapers around the country, and has been happening for years. It seems obvious to say that online news is replacing traditional print media. Everyone knows that, and people have been aware of this shift for years. The surprise comes when you consider the reactions of traditional media companies to these changes. It is nothing new. Consider the recording industry’s howls of terror in response to the proliferation of digital music. They resisted the new technology, just as they had resisted the cassette tape 30 years ago. Fast forward (pun-intended) 10 years and digital music sales dominate the industry in spite of the recording industry doing everything that they could to prevent it, because digital music was the better technology.
Physical media is a technology, nothing more. Music was stored on grooved wax cylinders in the early days of recorded music because that is the technology that people had at hand. And it is important to remember that at the time that was an innovative technology. How convenient it must have been for a person to be able to listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 41 without having to go to the concert hall!
Newspapers, books, choose your print media. The same holds true. There was a time when words needed to be delivered on paper, because paper was an innovative technology before people realized that they could write things down and give it to someone else to read.
The moral of the story? Embrace the change. A forward-looking company maintains constant vigil against become irrelevant and outdated. The advertising industry faces the same struggle today, and those agencies who identify, embrace and add value to technology will continue to find success for our clients. Times will change, the question is whether you will change with them or be left behind, a nostalgic relic of the past.
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