COMMENT 

Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

David Hepworth's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2019

By David Hepworth

Opportunities & Threats: Consumer Media

There will be a backlash against social media. That much is clear. It’s already happening. The squillionaires of the aw-shucks economy are being dragged into the daylight and asked to account for the things they actually do and what’s plain is, they don’t like the scrutiny one bit.

For all their talk about making the world cooler, we now know they’re perfectly happy to do the bidding of tyrants and demagogues, just so long as they can keep on turning clicks into dollars. For this reason, for the first time in a long time, I am prepared to entertain the possibility that there could be a return to paper.

There have been straws in the wind this year. Donald Trump may be loved by a minority of the American population and reviled by the majority but that revulsion hasn’t stopped him being the biggest boon to the ink and paper business in years. Sales volumes of print books in the United States are on the rise, thanks to titles such as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward’s Fear.

These have taken advantage of three facts. The first is that appetites are not always sated by information that comes to people in daily bites. The second is that antipathy can be a stronger spur to reading than the conventional route of affection. The third, which was always one of the key edges that paper and print enjoyed in the public sphere, is that with print, people sitting opposite you on the train, can see where your sympathies lie.

I still cannot believe that there is not some kind of future in some species of micropayments. It seems preposterous to me that the only relationship I can have with many titles online is through taking out a subscription, which is like being asked to accompany someone down the aisle when all you wanted was a night out, or giving them all my details. Many times a year, I find myself thinking that I would happily pay ten pence to download a copy of some particularly learned article or trenchant opinion piece but the option simply isn’t there. I simply don’t believe it isn’t possible and I hope 2019 is the year when somebody finally makes it work.

Threats? Well, when we were outlining the possible threats at the beginning of 2018, I don’t think anyone suggested that ShortList would close. If that can happen, then the same thing can happen to any enterprise predicated on what advertisers want. It is no longer enough to have a vehicle which can put a message in front of a lot of people. The thing that matters is making them do something with that message.