Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 6, 2013

Not Comics: Newspaper Industry Explodes With Headline-Making Sales To Rich People, Shut Downs

imageThe New York Times has a summary article on the recent spate of media purchases, led by two billionaires -- or former billionaires, maybe, I'm not exactly sure where each fortune stands -- featuring crown-jewel type newspapers. The focus of those stories, and I think it should be the focus of those stories, is that the papers went for a fraction of what they were considered worth 10-12 years ago. I don't think anyone on earth would have projected these papers to still be worth anywhere near those ludicrous amounts, but the severity of the decline in value startles.

This comes the same week the "new" Plain-Dealer starts publishing. That's one of those plans that involves cutting the shit out of the news staff, not really cutting into the executives as drastically, calling the company a "media company" a lot, waving arms like Mandrake the Magician in the direction of the Internet as some sort of home for news/profit center that we somehow haven't seen in the ten years that's been a thing, and cutting home delivery.

I'm not always on board with the shape and tone of how many folks react to these tough times for newspapers. I think that newspapers in general were uniquely, poorly prepared for a paradigm shift such as the one we've seen away from print consumption and display advertising. I also think their way of riding out the first severe drop from five years or so ago now was to hope that things would calm down and to wonder after various early retirement packages. But as the son of a newspaperman and as someone that spent about seven years working in newsrooms, it makes me very sad to see this, particularly the difference in management philosophies from just a generation ago. Seriously, if the same impulses that control newspapers now held sway in 1978, newspapers would have collapsed into dwarf-star state by the mid-1980s.

I don't think this has a drastic, drastic effect on comics syndication that we haven't already seen, at least not yet. Very few new features get launched now, and it's not that great rags to riches opportunity it used to be. There are still a lot of people making their living there, though, and syndicates seem to be better prepared than a lot of media companies to operate through leaner times. It always, always bears watching, though. One thing you don't see any longer? A belief in the progressive reform of comics for newspapers, like a return to sports cartoons or an ambitious editorial cartooning strategy including long-form comics, perhaps. Times are tough, and people are worried.
posted 5:06 am PST | Permalink

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