Hal Varian is the chief economist at Google, and as you might expect from someone in that position, has taken a long hard look at the media industry based on the actual data, rather than the emotional hyperbole on all sides. He’s been talking at the International Journalism Festival, and his speech is well worth reading.
He’s great on the decline of newspapers, pointing out that this began in the 70s, making it hard to blame the internet for declining circulations, as the industry seems to do constantly. At the same time (and I’m a huge fan of printed newspapers and magazines) it’s hard to deny that in several key respects, the internet is simply ‘better’ than print, so it’s no surprise that consumers are moving over to digital media in ever increasing numbers.
The only point where I think he falls a little short of the mark is when he equates time spent with a newspaper or website with ‘engagement’. On one level this is true, and I agree that newspapers will need to increase the amount of time readers are spending with their content in order to compete with pure-digital competitors. However, he neglects the impact that a particular newspaper’s environment, history or prestige may deliver. If you spend 30 seconds on a Buzzfeed story, and 30 seconds on a New York Times opinion piece, my hunch is that the latter will engage your brain on a deeper level, be more likely to change the way you think, and be more likely to still be on your mind a few hours later. All of which makes it a much more appealing environment for advertisers. Unfortunately though, at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any agreed metric on this aspect of media consummption. Until there is, we may be stuck with ‘time spent’ as an imprecise proxy.
Great speech though, and there’s further comment here: http://paidcontent.org/2013/09/26/googles-chief-economist-understands-media-better-than-some-industry-executives-do/