What now for the paper tigers?
What does the Irish publishing industry hold for a new company hoping to make a name for itself in a sector that is undergoing the biggest challenges in its history?
IN AN episode of the cartoon Family Guy, the character Brian goes into a bar and tries to impress a young girl by telling her he’s just finished writing his first book. “Book,” she replies. “What’s that?”
“It’s like the internet, only made out of trees,” he tells her.
Online media may be good for tree lovers out there, but it has brought traditional publishing outlets to their knees. Anyone working in the industry will tell you things have changed dramatically in the past decade. The move to online and digital content has affected communications globally.
And while those under 25 can probably still identify a book, the online age has affected traditional publishing as much as it has the music and film industry.
“The consequences of the migration of content from traditional publications to online and social media are twofold: fragmentation of the mainstream media’s audience and the erosion of revenue streams,” says Patrick Kinsella of Dublin City University’s School of Communications.
“In other words, online advertising and more recently social media are eroding both the audience and the revenue possibilities for the mainstream media. The collapse of advertising revenues is also problematic, but presumably it is short-term and cyclical.”
So why would any self-respecting start-up want to get into it now?
Increasingly social media is how we get information of every sort, from news journalism to brand messages, says Hugh Linehan, online editor with The Irish Times. “Companies in every sector now know that their online presence is as important, if not more so, than their offline. But it’s a strange one. Social media is something that everybody knows is important, but they have trouble figuring out how it is important for them.
“All social media is necessary now and yet you still see people handing over business cards with a fax number on them and no Facebook address. When was the last time you sent or received a fax? Months if not years ago – and yet a lot of potential clients are on Facebook every single day.”
At the same time, Linehan is quick to warn against engaging in social media for the sake of it. “People and companies foolishly fill their own knowledge gap by pouring money into hiring media analysts and experts,” he says.
“Some people may be slow to catch up with the new reality, but there’s no point setting up a Twitter account without being clear about what you’re going to do with it,” he says. “You’ll need to commit well-needed resources to maintaining any social media.”
New companies offering expertise in social media will have some success in the short term assisting older companies trying to catch up. But there are more openings in online publishing than simply taking advantage of old fogies who want to keep with the times.