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Will the tanking economy help speed the transition away from print toward social media?


Readers of this space know that I have defended the role of traditional print media as strongly as I can, while still allowing for the gradual emergence of social media in wine publishing. Last summer and fall I took the position that print wine publications aren’t going anywhere soon, and if bloggers thought they were imminently about to take over the world, they were getting a bit ahead of themselves.

Well, the world is changing fast. Last summer the economy hadn’t yet melted down. Now, it has, and among the witch’s brew of catastrophic ripple effects is the suffering of print media. The Tribune Co. (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and there are persistent rumors that the New York Times is having problems. In wine media, Wine Spectator recently consolidated its San Francisco and Napa offices, and its publisher, M. Shanken Communications, laid off 20 employees.

It seems safe to say that, whatever the ultimate fate of print publishing is, the industry is moving faster toward it than it was six months ago.


One scenario is that print media’s demise is closer than anyone thinks. The corrolary of that, obviously, is a corresponding rise in the importance of social media. Nature — and marketing — hates a vacuum; regardless of what the economy does, wineries need media outlets to tell their stories and facilitate sales. If there are fewer paper-based publications in whose pages they can place advertising and hope to garner favorable reviews and coverage, wineries will migrate to the Internet instead: not only wine blogs, but Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and anything else they can think of.

Of course there are competing scenarios. This recession will end, sooner or later, and when it does, American industry — including print publishing — will emerge stronger than ever, having cut the fat and become lean and mean. In that case, wannabe social media writers and critics will find themselves playing second fiddle to magazines and newsletters, just as they always have.

I don’t know which of these dueling scenarios is correct. I certainly hope it’s the latter. What I do know is that, listening to our political and business leaders, the future looks dire. “…a bad situation could become dramatically worse,” the President-elect said this morning, adding that the recession could “linger for years.” Sounds like No Drama Obama is worried.

  1. I would propose that some in the print business have made moves to insulate and protect themselves from the coming troubles better than others have. In large part that can be measured by the robustness of their on-line presence and to what extent they are monetizing their content. Nobody seems to be doing it better than Granted, they are not print and have lots of video and Web 2.0 appeal, they *GOT* it early on.
    Maybe traditional print media has trouble grasping or accepting that the future face of media is conversational and interactive and not a delcaraitve monologue with occasional letters to the editor.

  2. Arthur, the problem with trad media moving online is twofold: 1, it costs money to be online and 2, there’s no revenue stream as yet. So they don’t want to be spending without a ROI, especially in this recession.

  3. Steve,

    Interesting post, as always, though I think you’re looking at this a little too literally.

    It’s not a zero sum game, in my opinion.

    Print isn’t going to die, there will always be a way to read something in a tactile manner, but even the tactile manner is changing — consider Amazon’s Kindle and the e-ink technology (

    I can very easily foresee, in the not too distant future, that my newspaper is delivered, with ads, in a paper-based layout, to my electronic paper every morning at 6 am, in lieu of an actual paper by a delivery person. Same for magazines via postal subscription.

    Instead of going to Borders or B&N to buy monthly, you go online to buy that month’s magazine.

    So, in this regard, traditional, professional journalism isn’t going away–wine or otherwise.

    However, I don’t think social media like Facebook and Twitter as ebulliantly as others see it. I don’t think this will truly be as disruptive as is purported. it’s too populace oriented and the arts (including journalism) never comes out of the populace.

    However, what is intractable is that writers who don’t write for a living have audiences. What seems like a likely outcome is that professional journalists are faced with pro-am competition that will try to go legitimate in an online for pay/advertising model.

    In this regard, we may not just subscribe to WS and WE, it may be a blogger aggregation that creates wine content, as well.

    This is more bottom-up, then top-down and the democratization of both expertise and content.

    I urge you to check out e-ink and think about content delivery.

    At any rate, good post.


  4. Isn’t the hyrid model the wave of the future. Many/most publications have a digital version. The most noteworthy is the Wall Street Journal which charges for its online pub, and definitely has a revenue stream–particularly when ads are included–as do other smaller operations. Spectator charges for its online effort.


  5. Actually, the cost of operating a web site is a fraction of that of printing – start up costs aside. Never mind that content distribution and syndication technologies are more portent on-line.
    CNN, Yahoo and Google are not charities yet they have robust free content. There are numerous ways to monetize and some are less obvious than advertising.
    I think that it boils down to several things:
    The fact that The LA Times, NYT or Chicago Tribune each have a much smaller reach/catchment than CNN, Yahoo and Google.
    And the fact that traditional print media may be reluctant to go out of its comfort zone into things like video and more interactive forms.

  6. Hasa nyone caught this headline, yet?

    “In 2009, the [Christian Science] Monitor will become the first nationally circulated newspaper to replace its daily print edition with its website; the 100 year-old news organization will also offer subscribers weekly print and daily e-mail editions.”

    On October 28, 2008, staff writer David Cook wrote the above. This is a HUGE leap of faith… and I’m aware of the pun.

  7. Jo, that is a big deal! Thanks for pointing it out.

  8. In my opinion we have to see print magazine and social media in a complementary way: the first isn’t in opposition to the second one. Print magazines will exist, but only the ones which are on internet too with some good free contents and usage of social media (social networks, blogs, microblogs, video sharing, photo sharing, communities, …).

    A point to the italian situation: wine print magazines simply don’t exist online! This is very bad from a wine lover point of view, but very interesting for those who want to do business in this sector like me, for instance.

  9. Fabio, until the worldwide recession is over, print publications are going to have a very difficult time, because advertising revenues are falling. The future is so hard to predict that I don’t know how anyone can foresee anything about publishing, beyond vague generalities.

  10. Print publishing needs to continue its foray into online publishing.
    The tanking economy may indeed be speeding its demise.
    But nevertheless, every person I know under the age of 40 reads almost all of their news, etc online. This is a generational issue regardless of the economy.

  11. If I am reading on the computer, it is business related to a great degree. My three major, non-business related reading locations are my bed, the sofa, and the toilet. Note that these three locations are substantially computer free (I include small devices like the iPhone in this classification.) Is there anyone reading online in the bathroom?

    If there is… eew.

  12. Regard
    Very interesting question

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