As someone with a lifelong love of music and a fan of many different musical artists, I have a really large collection of music CDs. But over the past 10 years or so, my rate of buying new CDs has declined precipitously – from an average of one a week in the 1990s to perhaps four a year now.
I am not alone. CD sales in the US dropped to 114 million in 2010 from 147 million the year before according to Billboard (and reported by CNN), part of a decade-long trend. iTunes and similar services are certainly a large part of the reason for that decline, but they also serve to highlight an essential weakness in the record industry business model: record companies sell records, but people buy music. Once music was freed from the strictures of physical media (be it a record, tape or CD), people stopped buying them – but they didn’t stop buying music.
The same is true for print media, and especially newspapers. News organizations sell newspapers, but people buy information. When that information was made available on a medium – the internet – that is not only always available, but updated constantly and free to boot, people saw little reason to continue reading – or buying – the paper.
In fact, last fall the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that the average daily circulation of US newspapers fell five percent in the six months ended September 30, 2010 – and that on top of a decline of 8.7 percent in the six months prior. And unlike the music industry, where people are willing to pay for an individual song, consumers have shown little willingness to pay for individual news stories.
However, as the news industry struggles to reinvent itself and its business model, people have in no way stopped consuming news and information. News websites and online media channels are proliferating, while the blogosphere, Twitter and social media websites provide an additional and immediate dimension to reporting (whether all of this qualifies as ‘news’ is a matter of debate).
Nonetheless, as the news media evolves and moves online, so too must those who wish to make, influence or respond to the news. While in the past, professional communicators and public relations agencies such as ours would send news releases only to newspapers, TV and radio stations (all of which also now have websites), today we also build relationships with bloggers, create Facebook pages for clients, and often create websites for them as well. We Tweet, create YouTube videos and add our (and our clients’) voice to the comments section of online news articles. The model may have changed, but the need, and desire, for information remains constant.
While the music industry has found a model that will sustain it for now – perhaps much to the chagrin of companies whose business it is to sell records – the print news media’s struggle to do the same represents a great opportunity. Are you taking full advantage of the multiple news and information channels that are now available to communicate your message? Or are you still listening to the same old song on a record you bought years ago?