Dvorak: Don't Give Up on Old Media Just Yet

Old media are finally coming to grips with the online world as it eats away at old ideas and institutions. The Internet has created a distribution and publishing mechanism that negatively affects the status quo and forces it to adjust.

So far, old media have not adjusted well; instead, they've simply opened up Web sites and jumped online feet first, hoping they will be saved by "being on board."

• Click here for FOXNews.com's Personal Technology Center.

When any new medium comes along, the old media have to adapt. This was the case with the invention of newspapers, magazines, movies, radio and TV.

For example, when TV came along, the movie industry went to wide-screen CinemaScope, Cinerama, and other technologies that the black-and-white TV experience could not duplicate. Now, with the incursion of the home theater, the movie industry is moving to IMAX monster projections.

TV was most disruptive to radio, which, in the 1930s and 1940s, was vibrant with stars, live productions, dramas, comedies and all sorts of expensive productions. TV killed all that overnight and took it for its own programming.

Radio deteriorated into doing little more than playing record albums, and then further deteriorated into talk radio and news. It never fully revived the way the movie business did.

The Internet is the most interesting disruptive technology, but what we're talking about is really just a change in content distribution. Like other distribution changes, this one affects the older mechanisms. Plain and simple, it's lots cheaper!

Let's look at a traditional newspaper versus an Internet newspaper.

Both can deliver the exact same content. No difference whatsoever.

One requires huge and elaborate printing presses, trucks to distribute papers, home-delivery folks and newsstands. The printed version also requires tankers full of ink and rolls of paper the size of a truck.

The Internet version requires a content-management system, a Web server and some other software. Actually, the printed version also requires a content-management system and some additional software, too.

So the only real difference is that the Web version needs a Web server. It takes the place of ink, paper, trucks, printing presses and all the rest.

The same goes for magazines and for broadcasting, where the Internet replaces the broadcast tower and the transmitters.

Gee, I wonder which of these two systems is the most cost-effective?

Optimize Content

To survive, old media need to optimize content, not worry about the new delivery mechanism.

The movies turned to wide-screen projection to keep TV from stealing customers; the same concept can work for newspapers, magazines and broadcasters.

The idea is to change the content into a form that the new distribution medium simply cannot duplicate. In other words, make a newspaper that is optimized for print and cannot be usurped by an online newspaper.

People in the variously attacked media must understand why their medium is special. Then they have to optimize for that specialness.

For example, newspapers allow people to scan vast amounts of information quickly and efficiently. No online mechanism can do this, but newspapers often choose to simplify content delivery, copying the way other mechanisms work. Thus, newspapers are trying to be more Internet-like.

Have you ever seen newspapers from the 1950s? They were packed with stories and not filled with features and fluff. Newspapers were practically all news items that readers could scan visually.

Each medium has its own particular advantages in delivering content. For example, magazines can be jammed with very detailed charts and fold-out pages that can never be done right on the Internet. Magazines have also tended towards white space and fluff, when they should be densely designed, which Web-based publishing cannot do well.

TV is also under attack, but it has economies of scale that Web folks cannot imagine. And TV should make the transition to IPTV with little difficulty.

Each content-delivery mechanism has its strengths and weaknesses. Identifying the strengths seems to be a difficult task for many of the large companies whose business is content distribution.

Remember, the Internet is really just a newfangled content-distribution mechanism. My advice: Don't give up on old media just yet.

Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.