The year readers gave up on reading

People used to dig retrospectives. Not my thing and, honestly, I’ve never grasped that rerun obsession quite well. Today, we love predictions. Prediction is a way to defeat anguish, frame your destiny and, luckily, save some bitcoins on the way. There is, of course, a high concentration of illusion included, but no one cares, we’re counting on that too.

The retrospective that media all over the world was expecting to highlight never came. The plan consisted in demonizing fake news and fake ads — get behind me, Fakebook — in the hope of recapturing real readers and real advertisers. All in vain. Instead, the only thing media got from 2017 was “pivot to video”.

Let me put this gently, there were a lot of shitty inputs on this matter: written by some dear fellows that clearly — as ever in these situations — have never set foot in any newsroom. While few hardcore players — New York Times, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed — laid off staff writers to shift resources into video content, some hardcore guessers spent the year stating the obvious — “Facebook, Google and Snapchat have avoided transparency around their metrics” — or trying to save their own asses — “print journalists are going to lose their jobs, and video won’t save the publishing industry”.

Foreseeably, 2017 got to an end with not one single media company pivoting to video, nor Facebook and Google remotely falling in disgrace. And, not exactly a spoiler, publishing industry hasn't found salvation. (I always have this feeling that media executives pray every day for a lamp genie or a meteor hitting Earth and ending their misery, whichever is easier…)

Following this same flimsy line of thinking, it is simple to predict 2018: pivot to AR. Or to VR. Or to AI. Let’s make it better: pivot to any double letter abbreviations. You may be laughing inside but trust me, someone will try to recycle these words in a near future. To counterweight that, here are some words this same soothsayer will never use in a near future: 2018 is finally the year readers will give up on reading.

I still had some optimism left, then I let Jack and Ryan do the talking. Jack Fuller was a Pulitzer Prize winner journalist who published some well-received novels and a pretty good book about the meltdown of print media. There is great stuff in “What is happening to news”, but the clairvoyance lies here: internet hasn’t destroyed newspapers, it was only an alternative to news; so was cable TV, videogames, music players, karaoke machines etc.

You may be familiar with Fuller, but who is Ryan? Ryan doesn’t even need a last name. Well, I’m pretty sure he has one, but I have no idea what it is. This 6-year old little kid has been around since 2015. Last year, his channel, Ryan Toys Review, was the most popular one on YouTube in the US, and the second largest in the world. This year, he made Forbes’ annual list of the highest-earning YouTube “celebrities” with more than $11 million in pretax income. I’ll give you some moment while you wonder if your favorite media company has made 11 million dollars this year, pretax or not.

Before some lunatic screams “pivot to children”, listen: Ryan is not the answer for anything, however he is another “alternative to news”, as Jack would say. A freakish one, I know, but still. Will people like Ryan keep making $11 million a year? I’m sorry, but I can only give you the boring answer, which is, yes, they will, because YouTube is a non-stop growing apparatus and it won’t go anywhere soon. In the last four years Google video platform gained half a billion new active users worldwide, and — here’s where things get eerie — in February, YouTube announced viewers are watching more than 1 billion hours of videos every single day — that’s 10x more than people spend on Netflix, for example.

There is someone else whose figures skyrocketed during this period: Instagram. Incidentally, it is another “alternative” that even illiterate people can master without any hardship. From 2013 to 2017, Instagram went from 100 million to 800 million users, which means 700 million “new” individuals found something “better” to do than read the news. Instagram users under 25 spend 32 minutes a day on the app, and users 25 and over spend 24 minutes a day. If he were alive, Jack Fuller would mock media companies worried about Facebook and Twitter and would advise them to reconsider their battles: at least, those enemies still use words.

Maybe 2018 won’t be the year readers will give up on reading. Readers are tough guys — tougher than media companies, that’s for sure. Most of these corporations have lost the ability to plan, structure, think, predict or even listen properly. Year after year, while half of them are knocked down by unrealistic schemes, the other half keeps working on retrospectives. And do you know who reads retrospectives in 2017? Yes, exactly.




Two decades of hardcore journalism in a past life; now Digital Media PhD candidate @ University of Porto, coffee taster and vinyl aficionado

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Alexandre Botão

Alexandre Botão

Two decades of hardcore journalism in a past life; now Digital Media PhD candidate @ University of Porto, coffee taster and vinyl aficionado

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