Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Print, Online and the Creative Class

TODAY I have another piece in Salon, this one about the folding of New York magazine into a biweekly, and the resulting conversation about where the media is (and isn't going.) HERE it is.

People trying to be "counterintuitive" are framing this as a win for journalists and journalism, since more people will read New York related copy on the blogs (some of which are quite good.) It's like saying musicians -- or music -- are thriving because more people listen to their songs on Spotify than ever did in the old record label-and-album model.

If you work in journalism, or the media business, you know that the phrase, "we've moving online" is typically a code word for de-professionalization -- something the creative class has gotten awfully familiar with. David Carr in the New York Times had the right take, I think.

The magazine also plans to bulk up its print publication with more fashion and luxury coverage, at a time when most Americans – among them, the new mayor tells us, a lot of New Yorkers -- continue to emerge only gradually from the Great Recession. (The Bloomberg operation will reportedly cover the arts, despite firing its arts staff, as a subset of luxury.) 

New York magazine – which has always combined the smartly serious with conspicuous consumerism, Frank Rich alongside frivolity – is not the only publication that is upping its fashion and luxury “content.” The way high-end fashion coverage, celebrity-worship and house porn continues to replicate in magazines three decades into flat middle-class wages is a paradox a greater critic than I will have to tackle. But whatever is driving this, it’s not something most Americans should celebrate, especially journalists, who increasingly toil to remain in the middle-class instead of buying $50,000 watches.

Like the David Lowery piece that ran yesterday, this gets into stuff I investigate deeper in my book Creative Destruction, which comes out next year.


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dgetzin said...

You have your finger on something real here, but publications targeting fashion and luxury is far from a paradox. It is simple economics.

Given an environment of increasing income inequality, those with surplus time and income to choose pay media (magazine subscriptions) over free media tilt to the upper end of the income distribution.

Chasing the "long tail" of the demand curve in the model of Amazon or eBay has been farmed out, that soil now *needs* fertilizer. The "mass market" of the Internet is mostly claimed and established. The fertile territory to yet be fought for is how the (increasingly more so) rich circulate all that extra cash they get out of our economy. There are very few plums to be picked, but they are all /grossly distended/, and "new" media and anyone else selling something are fighting like hell to pick them first.

New media, especially if it relies on advertising will target the rich, and those in the middle class who want to feel and seem rich. The advertising dollars naturally want to get a high return on investment. They therefore go for the demographic that now has more cash to spend than ever.

So to put it neatly once more: rising income inequality with the new rich being the ones with time and money to spare for magazines, and being an irresistible target for ads: - - Arts is framed by editors a subset of luxury… of course it is.

So, what do we want to do about it? Whine about the creative class being killed? If they were truly creative, they would learn to spin their own cloth. What is ending is the fat spillover from corporations to the haute eBourgeoisie that is now being cut out of the loop as the income divide *continues* to widen and CFOs' margins tighten.

I imagine you will probably write about how this brutal transition of the creative class away from the teet of corporate largess will mean an opportunity for market model disruption and innovation on many levels, hence the Schumpeter reference in your book's title. But as I am sure you know, what this yields all around is a lot of anxiety and joblessness. Last time around, (1930) Sigfried Krakauer wrote in Frankfurt about this disruptive transition in the "Salaried Masses." We have seen this movie before. The real question I am concerned about is not deaths of classes whose fall was discounted years ago, but: who is *gaining* power? The rich _already had_ it. They are shifting it to someone different than before.

Even the new kids, the CS suite jockeys, are losing power. Power is like atoms in that it is not being lost, it is being stored up (very dangerous) or transferred (disruptive bet safer) and most importantly, power is being transformed. So who gets it? That is my question of the moment.