News products and news delivery: Look to the past for a future
News products and news delivery: Look to the past for a future
By Denise Scammon
Technology is connected with social change. Printing technology, specifically movable type, has had a powerful effect on society. As society became more literate, the printed, published word became an effective means of communication. As publishing became quick, cheap and portable, communication became easier, even among people separated by great distances. Technological advances were developed in electronic formats – the Internet, CDs, DVDs, e-mail – in order to make communication even quicker, cheaper and more portable. As the revenue stream used to support one of the biggest communicators of all times – the newspaper – shrinks due to the economic recession, people are wondering how the newspaper industry will survive. By looking to the past, perhaps we can figure out the technology needed for the survival of the newspaper.
Newspapers are facing an economic crunch which has forced newspaper companies with a lot of debt to either layoff a large number of staff or close their doors completely. Smaller newspapers don’t have huge debt and remain profitable. “Newspapers and magazines traditionally have had three revenue sources: newsstand sales, subscriptions and advertising. The new business model relies only on the last of these. That makes for a wobbly stool even when the one leg is strong. When it weakens — as countless publishers have seen happen as a result of the recession — the stool can’t possibly stand,” according to Walter Isaacson, author of “How to Save Your Newspaper.” Because newspapers of any size, no matter if they have debt or not, are affected by a recession when advertisers become conservative with their advertising dollars and readers cut back on subscriptions, it is important to find technology that allows newspapers to deliver its product – journalism and news – in a manner that allows it to remain profitable.
There have been many ideas bounced around regarding ways to support journalism and news. One such idea relates to newspaper Web sites and the idea of charging for access to read the news online. Some newspapers have already tried charging for access to their online news and found that readers don’t want to pay for something they can get somewhere else for free. “If big newspapers would charge the advertisers, not the readers, they could still turn things around,” wrote Dan McDonough Jr. and Alan Bauer in The Christian Science Monitor. Charging advertisers for being the delivery vehicle for their advertisements is not a new idea. The change would be in the amount charged. Newspapers would need as many advertisers subscribing to their sites as would make it profitable, either equalling the number of readers subscribing that make it profitable or have fewer advertisers subscribe at a higher rate. I think the higher rate makes sense.
The idea of a subscription to online news sites does not have to shut out readers who are willing to donate to a “keep journalism free” fund. Non-profits like PBS and NPR have such donations funding their journalism and news. Readers who make donations to support the news site can be thanked with discounts at advertisers’ businesses. A “billing system, or something like it, is the missing element for developing a viable twenty-first century newspaper business model,” according to Denis Pombriant of Beagle Research Group, LLC. It’s true that the ease with which an online reader gets through the subscription process makes a difference in whether or not that reader actually completes the subscription process. Some online forms don’t work correctly; clicking on a button doesn’t move to the next screen. Some subscription forms are complicated and take too much time. Some subscription forms are hidden behind several levels of clicking rather than on each page.
Some businesses are using technology for profit that newspapers should be able to use, too. Isaacson noted that Internet Service Providers are able to charge monthly rates for Internet access, which, in a round-about way, means ISPs are making money on access to newspaper sites. Isaacson also wrote, “Thus we have a world in which phone companies have accustomed kids to paying up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast.” The solution to charging for online news may be in using technology that makes micro-payments quick and easy, such as the technology used for iTunes and E-ZPass. Isaacson concluded, “Under a micropayment system, a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day’s full edition or $2 for a month’s worth of Web access. Some surfers would balk, but I suspect most would merrily click through if it were cheap and easy enough.”
Prior to the printed word, people relied on memory and oral transmission to communicate. Printing created a revolution in the way people communicate. The social effects of printing may not have been apparent immediately, but history reveals that printing affects whether or not a language survives, has practical purposes for recording transactions and communications between governments, and spiritual purposes, such as the printing of Bibles and religious tracts. The printing revolution relied on interrelated technologies, which ultimately led to mass production of books and newspapers. The Internet has revolutionized communication and newspapers. “The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen,” according to Clay Shirky in his blog post, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”
We might not know what the future holds for newspapers, but by studying its past, and the technologies that have brought it to where it is today, perhaps we can move toward a new business model that will make profitability a sure thing. Maybe the technology that next revolutionizes the news industry will be new. Maybe the technology is available now, but serving a different purpose. Maybe the technology is sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere. Pombriant makes a valid point, “Like many other industries newspapers have existed on the same business model for decades or even centuries with little change. Some executives have a hard time separating their core business model from their delivery model. The two are different and the marketplace is insisting that a separation be made. Newspapers can be viable, vibrant and profitable again but it will require work and some pain.” Looking at newspapers in this manner, breaking it down into two models, makes possibilities more focused on the business of news and the business of delivery. One focuses on journalism and news gathering and the other focuses on how that journalism/news is delivered to readers.
Newspaper delivery uses different forms of technology. There’s the paper version. There’s the online version. Recent technological advances have brought news to mobile devices such as cell phones and Kindles. After reading about how technology is connected to social change in Rudi Volti’s book “Society and Technological Change,” the idea of borrowing technology being used in one industry for use in another industry and the futuristic qualities of nanotechnology, the future of the newspaper industry has possibilities. Pombriant wrote, “When the business model change comes it will be sudden and swift because the existing paradigm will collapse everywhere at once and because large newspaper chains will accelerate the turnover. The elements are in place.” Perhaps the technology that will revolutionize the news industry is already here and we know it as the hologram.
Looking at the hologram as a possible form of newspaper delivery fits the belief that a new business model for the news industry can be found by looking at history because holograms have been around for over 50 years. Before going any further in describing how newspapers may be delivered as holograms in the future, it is important to note that the term “hologram” might mean different things to different people, depending on how much they know about the science of holography. As the word “hologram” is used in this essay, it is meant to be used as a form of technology that allows news to be viewed anywhere, as a projected image. It’s possible that the correct term is actually “spectral imagery,” but for purposes of general knowledge, holograms are correct. Nanotechnology would allow for the miniaturization of the hologram device or projector to be small and convenient.
A simple definition of hologram technology comes from Nic Lawrence, Edward Buckley, Adrian Cable and Peter Mash, researchers within the Photonics and Sensors Group at the University of Cambridge, Department of Engineering: “Holograms are efficient: they work by routing light to the places where you want it, and away from the places you don’t. Video projectors based on this holographic technology require only a very few components, which means they can be made very small – and the smaller you make holograms, the better the image that results. So a projector could be integrated into a laptop, a PDA, or even a mobile phone.” Hologram projectors haven’t been widely used because of limitations in technology. For naysayers, history has shown repeatedly that technology can be improved upon. Social needs have been the impetus for many technological advances. Volti also noted that there’s a difference between inventors and entrepreneurs. Perhaps news delivery via holograms is available, but just hasn’t been marketed adequately.
An actual holographic newspaper may seem too much like science fiction, but the same could be said about many inventions, such as the phone, the computer, and television. “Dennis Gabor is considered the Father of Holography and Holographic Technologies” and he wrote a paper on the subject in 1948 of which “The most interesting thing about all this is that laser light had not even been invented yet, when he wrote his paper,” noted Lance Winslow in his essay “Holographic Projection Technologies of the Future: Killer Applications” for the Holographic Think Tank. Once inventions become mainstreamed and ingrained in society, modifications occur to accommodate the way the inventions can be most useful. Holographic newspapers would undergo the same types of modifications until they too become outdated and are then surpassed by a new technology that cannot even be comprehended today.
Social change will affect the technology we need in our lives, simply to maintain the standard of living to which we have become accustomed. There will always be positive and negative consequences of technology. Researchers at the Holographic Think Tank wrote that “things that would negate the positive curbing of less pollution from less travel due to Holographic Communication Technologies” include “power outages and many coal-fired plants put out a good amount of Greenhouse gasses including CO2.” Time – and useage – will prove whether or not these positives and negatives will be problematic and if any other pros and cons are built into using holographic technology.
Not only can newspapers use hologram technology to deliver its product – journalism and news – advertisers can use hologram technology for marketing their products and services. This joint use seems to point toward a beneficial technology for newspapers and advertisers to continue to work together in the future.
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