I was reading a recent NY Times article about billionaires’ latest trophies and I can't help but feel like I’ve seen this movie before.
It all started when Sam Zell bought The Tribune. Next came the group that bought The Philadelphia Inquirer. Then, Barry Diller bought Newsweek, which he is now admitting was a big mistake. Now, hedge funds, baseball tycoons and Jeff Bezos are even getting involved in the game of media investments, with little or no media experience.
Even after the carnage of several of these types of deals, newcomers are still coming back for more. Even Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, is having some fun as he just purchased New Republic magazine.
While these billionaires can clearly afford to acquire these media properties, it kind of makes a mockery of the entire media industry. What’s driving these deals? Ego? Their competitive nature? Or do they just want the press? There is no better way to get press on yourself than to announce that you ARE THE PRESS! Maybe, as some have said, they just want to "save the institution," but I don’t buy that one. Can anyone name one example of a deal where the buyer actually had a real plan to stop the hemorrhaging other than just slash and burn?
I have long felt the answer to solving the media riddle is that print should just go away. With that, new revenue models must be developed (other than banner ads). News consumption has forever changed, but the news providers haven't. A serious media mogul would get that. I get that, and everyone I know who is passionate about news gets that. But, these investors who are purchasing these pubs for sport don’t get that (and don’t care).
We haven't stopped reading but we clearly are consuming news differently, whether on our tablets or smart phones. And the trend will only accelerate. Think about it. Have you ever seen someone under 30 reading a newspaper? New statistics show that magazine sales have plummeted, but digital editions are thriving!
The good news is that as more and more news sites get further away from serious journalism, (I must confess that I do love when Business Insider runs days upon days of stories on Jennifer Lawrence), outlets like New York Times, Rueters, Crains, The Observer, Financial Times, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal are getting better and better. Even our local news seems to be getting smarter and more relevant all the time.
My hope is that an experienced media mogul will finally step up and really fix the economics of the print landscape or the media will just fix itself. I know it sounds simplistic, but bigger, more complex industries have figured out how to reinvent and save themselves. At the very least, we won't have to continue reading about billionaires who are finding new toys for their sand box!
I know that was a bit of a rant. Don’t get me wrong, I admire many of these investors as much as anyone but I am sick of seeing the media ridiculed this way.