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.