Ryan Anderson over at The New PR has a great post about how “we’re married to our media of choice” and slow to adapt to change.
I just read an old Time Magazine article from 1929 called “Radio into Talkies” about radio and television pioneer David Sarnoff. It talks about Radio Corporation of America’s change from “communications company” to “entertainment company”. RCA entered the entertainment business as an outsider because David Sarnoff saw the potential of the “talkies” while many of the established entertainment companies were still lingering somewhere between silent movies and talking cinema. He went on to grow RCA into a radio and television empire (also see his Wikipedia entry). A lot of his entertainment competitors went under while others were able to adapt and change.
Today, it is the news(paper) business that is changing. I don’t know if blogging and online formats necessarily mean certain death to print newspapers (the death of radio has been announced repeatedly since the 1950s). But one thing is still the same after almost 80 years: established players are afraid of change and it still takes visionaries like David Sarnoff to drive change.
I think we’re at a stage where more and more newspapers are switching their priorities to put more emphasis on online editions. The next step will be that they treat print editions as an afterthought and, to Ryan’s point, we will probably see an established newspaper switch to online-sooner than later. But it will be just as interesting to watch the ongoing development of existing online-only players and blogging networks to see if one of them can become as strong a brand as, for example, the New York Times.
The Time article from 1929 includes a great quote by David Sarnoff: “While the sylvan mouse-trap maker is waiting for customers and his energetic competitor is out on the main road, a third man will come along with a virulent poison which is death on mice and there will be no longer any demand for mouse-traps.”
He was talking about how phonograph makers adapted to radio while the “pre-radio phonograph is absolutely dead”. Today, it could be somebody like Steve Jobs (iPod vs. radio) or maybe Michael Arrington (blogging vs. newspapers) making similar statements. Visionaries – right or wrong – are still in demand, especially when the rest of us are still trying to figure out what’s good and bad about the changes we’re experiencing.
We’ll see how the newspaper business will develop but in the meantime, I agree with Ryan that “it’s important to remember that those who accept change have the biggest successes and the biggest failures. Mediocrity is rarely rewarded either way.”