Archive for April 2009
One of the many reasons I produced The Sandinista Project was to show how The Clash’s music, decades after the demise of the band, could go in new places. Looks like I wasn’t the only one with that idea:
A new wave of Latin stars is paying homage to The Clash in a concert featuring versions of their songs put though a blender of salsa, reggae, Mexican and other flavors. “Spanish Bombs: A Tropical Tribute to The Clash” debuted at London’s Barbican Theater this week. Backed by a 15-piece band complete with horns, congas and cantina-style accordion, guest singers tore through a repertoire of Clash favorites from “London Calling” to “Guns of Brixton” in true fiesta spirit.
(Source: Reuters, This Is Radio Clash, Latin-Style. Thanks, Owen, for letting me know about this!)
Music this thrilling and ambitious can’t help but live on, evolve, and inspire new generations. The future is unwritten!
Most important for my stateside friends, this last version is available in the Lower 48 at reasonable prices. Get Ida Maria’s Fortress Around My Heart, which was my record of the year last year and is looking to duplicate the feat.
Over on PaidContent, Staci Kramer, ace reporter and Jill Sobule fan, reports AP Launching Newspaper Industry Campaign To ‘Protect’ News Content. Oy vey. If the people running newspapers and wire services (both now antiquated terms) think that aggregators stealing their content, rather than their own inability to navigate the dynastic shift I mention here, is their biggest problem, maybe they do deserve to go away. Those aggregators are giving the newspapers new customers. Why don’t the newspapers welcome (and focus on monetizing) their new customers rather than hope to sue away new technologies and business models? I’m having a how-the-record-industry-treated-Napster-in-a-way-that-hastened-its-own-demise flashback.
UPDATE: Staci has a super analysis follow-up today. I reproduce the lede in full: “Those of you who have never owned a mercury thermometer and a tiled floor at the same time probably won’t get this but the Associated Press campaign to “protect” news content is the online equivalent of trying to pick up mercury after you drop the glass thermometer. It’s virtually impossible to pick it all up and maddening to try. The AP and the news industry won’t be able to pick up all of the ways news content is used, even with the most sophisticated tagging or other technologies. And even if they manage to do so, they won’t be able to stop it all.”
By the time The Boston Globe arrived Saturday morning with the ominous headline Times Co. Threatens To Shut Globe, it was old news and that’s the problem. The story had been broken the day before by Adam Reilly at The Boston Phoenix and Monica Brady-Myerov at WBUR, both via electronic media; by the time the newspaper landed with a very light thud at homes and newsstands, the story had moved along. On Saturday morning, the initial shock had moved on to questions about management’s negotiation tactics and other meta-issues. The bloggers and microbloggers had taken over the story.
The Boston Globe is an inconsistent newspaper. Some sections, particularly Washington and Metro, are strong; others, like Sports, are driven by personality and trivia; still others, like Living/Arts, are so full of factual and conceptual errors that they rise to mediocrity only on a very good day. But none of that may matter when considering the survival of the newspaper. The life-threatening problem facing The Boston Globe is not, primarily, a content problem. The Boston Globe is middling and The New York Times may be the best in the English language, but they both face the same problem: a combination technology and business problem that adds up to a dynastic problem.
It’s the end of the print dynasty as the primary delivery mechanism for the content typically housed in a newspaper. Although papers as different in quality as The Boston Globe and The New York Times have shrinking print readerships, they have strong and, in many cases, growing online readerships. People want their product — just not in the wrapper that the newspapers currently offer as their primary product. Indeed, the costs associated with delivering the newspapers on paper are so extraordinary that one enterprising reporter has imagined a dramatically different and provocative way to spend that money.
If I’m right that this is a dynastic problem, not a content problem, then better content — although always desirable — will not solve the profound problems facing newspapers. The businesspeople charged with saving the Globe, whether it be the current ownership or a new team, must confront the truth that cutting down trees, printing tree-based products on large machines, and delivering smaller packages via trucks, is a dead business model for the delivery of timely news.
I’m not arguing that print as a general medium is dead. I am arguing what should be self-evident, but isn’t to many in newspaper management: that print as a way to deliver timely news will soon be over. Smart folks at the Globe and the Times may well dream up tough-minded, profitable print products, but those print products will be expensive, low-volume, premium entries, not mass-market ones. There is a small but sustainable audience that will pay a premium price for a high-quality physical item, so long as it plays to the strength of a physical item, such as permanence, portability, and higher, more controllable production values. But that print product will be secondary to its electronically published siblings. Once publishers stop wrestling with that, they can focus entirely on building the future rather than resuscitating the past. Even those of us who see the Globe as far from perfect want it to survive — but the powers that be on Morrissey Avenue and across the street from Port Authority had better understand that the only way it can survive is in a far different form. Newspapers: you wanna live? Give us new products. Now.
(Disclosure: Between 1998 and 2006, I served on and off as a consultant to boston.com, The Boston Globe‘s website, and over the past 15 or so years I have written a grand total of one book review and two op-eds for The Globe, none more recent than 2005. )