WHEN JEFF BEZOS BOUGHT the Washington Post, speculations started whether he might be the miracle man who would manage to break the code and find out how to make money – real money, not the pittances that ”successful” web publishers such as the New York Times and, in my own country, Ekstra Bladet have been earning so far – on digital news. I doubt it. Not because Bezos isn’t a visionary businessman, but simply because the conditions have changed. The times when newspapers were able to make big money were the times when we readers did not have so much to choose from.
I CAME TO THAT CONCLUSION while wondering why the plastic bag, in which I had put all the stuff I intended to read this summer, appeared to get more, not less, full during the month of July. My plan had been to read one piece a day and I had expected the bag to be empty by August 1. It didn’t turn out quite that way and my heatwave-induced laziness was only part of the explanation. There was just so much more to read, besides the stuff in my plastic bag.
I REMEMBER THE SUMMERS of my late childhood when the newspaper would sometimes be the only thing I’d read in a day, apart from the occasional novel or Marvel comic book. One issue of Politiken could last for an hour, sometimes more. Compare that to now when dozens of e-mailed newsletters, tweets, and Facebook updates keep linking me to must-read stuff (and sometimes just fun stuff) 24/7. All of it very interesting and entertaining, and I spend lots of time going through it, but not one of this gazillion of ”publications” can ever aspire to become my chosen one, the way Politiken was forty years ago. I even forget the names of most of the sites I have visited and my list of bookmarks is so ridiculously long by now that the chances I’ll actually ever visit them again are slim.
JUST LIKE THE REAL WORLD, the media world is suffering from overpopulation. And the scarce resource is our time. I therefore believe that the only way high-quality journalism can become a sustainable product in the future is if the publisher manages to establish such an esteemed brand that we’re willing to pay for it even though we won’t actually read it that often. The New York Times is an obvious example; certain niche publications with low production costs might be able to copy the model on a smaller scale. As for all the rest: Washington, we have a problem.