After all these years, print media still struggles versus the Internet. This long piece on how the travel magazine industry has been suffering covers many great topics. I suspect much of the analysis is the same for all of print media.
One of the problems is the new set of demands on writers in that field:
There is the pain point of figuring out an internal work flow that functions across platforms. Journalists, writers, and content creators often have specialized skillsets, so asking one to write a story, create a listicle, take photos, and film compelling videos about a trip is a major challenge.
“We just started working more efficiently that way and it really, it’s painful to integrate digital and print,” said Guzmán. “The plays are different, the workloads are different, the story ideation is different. In doing this, there’s this huge cultural shift that is exciting and difficult.”
And, then, even after suffering through all that “cultural shift,” the results are often disappointing:
“The iPad was just going to be this Jesus of magazines and I never really quite believed that because I knew how challenging it was was to rejigger the content to fit that format,” said Frank, who oversaw Travel + Leisure’s digital strategy in the early 2010s. “Having just gone through the process of signing up and downloading a magazine, it took forever and was buggy and it just wasn’t necessarily a great solution. I was never really bought the gospel that the tablet was going to be our savior. But we did it. I mean, we created a great app and it was beautiful. It won awards, but that was knowing what the usership was is a little disheartening.”
And, as ever, there’s the tense line between blaming “most reader are dumb” and “rivals are evil” when it comes to what’s to blame:
“I could have written the greatest travel story ever known, and it would not have gotten on the cover of the traffic oriented site because a Swedish bikini teen saved a kitten from a tree; which is going to be more popular?”
Let them watch cats.
Still, as the article opens up with, it’s the old Curse of Web 2.0 – former readers, now just travelers – writing the useful content in the form of reviews on TripAdvisor and such:
“In general, people don’t read a review and make a decision,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer of TripAdvisor. “Consumers will read six to eight reviews. They might dig in a certain characteristic that they are interested in, maybe they really are interested in what the quality of the beach is, or maybe they are really interested in whether it’s kid friendly or not kid friendly. In general, people will hone in on the characteristics of something that’s most important to them, find that answer on TripAdvisor, get that most recent insights, check out the photos, check the forums, and really be able to make an informed decision of whether something is right for them. I think that the notion that people could rely on the wisdom of the crowd and the wisdom of individuals to their detriment, I just think that’s false, and I don’t think the reality is that is going to happen.”
There’s also some M&A history of trading various assets like Lonely Planet, Zagat, and Frommer’s back and forth as different management figures out what to do with them.
As ever, I’m no expert on the media industry. It seems like the core issue is that “the Internet” is so much more efficient at the Job to be Done for travel (as outlined by the TripAdvisor exec above) that the cost structure and business process from print magazines is not only inefficient, but unneeded. Those magazines are now over-serving (and thus, over-spending) with a worse product.
While the quality of TripAdvisor (and Yelp, for example) reviews is infinitely worse than glossy magazines, since there’s an infinite amount of more crappy reviews, with the occasional helpful ones…it sort of more than evens out in favor of Sweedish bikini cat rescuers. Plus, digital advertising has so much more spend (and overall, industry profit, if only by sheer volume if not margin) – it must be because it’s better at making the advertisers money and because it creates a larger market: