24 November 2009

The Times They Are A Changing

Good (insert your time of day here),

As you may (or may not) have noticed The Fifth Circle is no more,  it's been covered in braingunk for reasons you don't care about, but I think it's a far snappier name for sure.  

Just a short entry today and the first of our interactive features.  There are two topics for your entertainment and enjoyment today and you get to choose which one gets written.  Yes that's right, through the use of the Google Time Shift™ interface you can actually send instructions back in time to braingunk, who will then write the blog entry of your choice.  Simply choose the subject below that you would like to be written:

1: The News Free News

2: The Secret of Eternal Life

Thank you.  You have selected…  

The News Free News

I witnessed a tragedy today, it was the end of an era, the end of an institution but more importantly it was the end of honesty.

I sat smoking a cigarette and watched as yet another nail was driven into the coffin of truth by the evil hammer of advertising and commercial greed.

The London Evening Standard newspaper is now being given away free. 

Now I know what many of you are thinking "yeah so what" and even more of you are thinking "well that's a good thing isn’t it"… no, no it's not a good thing and let me explain why.

There are as I'm sure you are aware quite a few free newspapers in the world, they operate by offsetting their costs with extra advertising revenue.   More adverts equals more money equals no cover charge… simple.

But as I sat there watching people gleefully grabbing their "free" copies of The Standard I just couldn't help thinking about the subtle shift in standards that would ensue over time.  You see when you had to pay for The Standard you were a customer.  The organization behind the paper had to take your needs, your wants, your opinion into account.. hell you were paying their wages after all.  But once the customer has been taken out of that financial loop, what then… who sets the standards for The Standard as it were.  The advertisers of course. 

The Evening Standard was founded in 1827 and until October 2009 it was like any other newspaper that customers paid for.  It's content and editorial style were tailored to the needs of those customers.  Sales figures for newspapers are a very simple and effective barometer of their success and their ability to deliver on a regular basis what their customers need from a daily paper.

By all counts The London Evening Standard was a very successful paper.  Considering its regional status, it's fairly impressive that it boasted sales figures that outstripped those of some national papers.  And I'm sure the powers that be were very chuffed with themselves that making the paper free literally doubled their readership figures over night!

But to me that's another thing worth thinking about.  Look at it like this.  Before they made the paper free, 100% of their readership found their product good enough to pay for it.  But after it became free that figure dropped to 50%.  Now 50% of their readership did not previously think the paper worthy of purchase, they take it now because it is free, but how long will it be before those one in every two readers have an influence on the quality and style of the paper's content, changing it from what it is into what they want… something that is clearly not the same as the previous paying customers wanted.

And my last point.  Are the readers the only factor in potential changes that could turn a well established and consistently successful newspaper into just another land fill contribution?  Of course not.  We're forgetting the people that now actually pay for the paper… yes the advertisers.  How long will it be before content changes are made due to advertising pressures?  How long before column content has to be approved by brand owners?  How long before the news becomes marginalized by the adverts?  For me… its already happened.

The powers that be might very well be congratulating themselves on doubling their readership, I hope they also appreciate they just lost every last one of their paying customers.

Goodbye Evening Standard, you will be missed.