Print vs. digital content clash: A tale of two burning ends of a rope

My articles are primarily focused at online advertising innovation for the traditional media industry, a worthy cause.

I wonder who my reader might sometimes be: Is it a digital professional already converted to the cause, a c-suite executive catching and looking for angles and opportunities, or an editor or ad manager looking to improve his knowledge or undertaking some desk research for a business plan or idea – each of them delighted with the piece as I am sure you are right now, looking forward to the prospect of where this is headed.

This post is slightly different. I am not going to share any opinion of programmatic advertising, ad blocking, or native content solutions but focus more on the evolution of the sector ... or lack thereof.

This is a true story without exaggeration, and it got me thinking about the bigger picture for our sector and the people within it.

For innovation to be delivered, the recipient must be suitably nourished by the idea before he feels it is an opportunity he can benefit from. Vision and ideas are easy. Delivering them is tough and usually, within large media organisations — which can be like turning an oil tanker — the buck stops with the people.

The level of influence that those people have varies. And their actions are usually determined by what they personally can gain from it – a perfectly reasonable human emotion, no soap box speech here. That’s just a true story.

The gains from successful innovation may simply be that it makes their life easier, makes hitting targets and deadlines easier, or helps them build a better connection with communities. It’s not a completely selfish motive, but you get the gist.

I took my young family for breakfast at a local pub recently. Admittedly, they each have a tablet, and, at 7 and 4 years old, they show my wife how to use them. Letting them use tablets at the dining table depends on the circumstances. Sometimes we force them to engage in family time and conversation, and sometimes ... we don’t want them to.

Of course, it’s primarily video content they are consuming, which has a bearing on whether or not we let them get away with it. But this isn’t about the morals of raising kids, dining, and watching television. On this occasion, we were tablet-free.

In the pub at the table next to ours, there was another slightly older family seated. The children were around 9 and 10 years old – a nice family that also included grandma.

The father was reading a broadsheet newspaper, enormous and covering half the table, his attention completely devoted to the content held within the pages. His 10-year-old daughter, unnoticed by him so far, sat quite quietly reading a novel on her Kindle – no headphones, no unsuitable YouTube video, no constantly texting her friends or posting to social media. She contentedly sat there “reading.”

Her father looked up with a double take and immediately chastised his daughter: “You know the rules. No technology at the table.” The Kindle went away, and she sat there pushing mushrooms around her plate.

It wasn’t until about 10 minutes later that the gravity of his statement dawned on me. His 10-year-old daughter had elected to read a novel – isn’t that wonderful? I think any parents would be delighted if their child chose to read a book and engage in literature – imagine the pride and peace of mind.

I am confident that if it were a printed book, nothing would have been said. But because it relied on technology, the proposition was wholly devalued by her newspaper-wielding father, which affected everyone at the table as the pages hid his face and likely flopped all over their breakfasts (don’t get me wrong, reading a newspaper at breakfast is a wonderful thing).

I thought about this in context to our industry and the rather slow pace of change.

How many people disregard and devalue digital readers because they haven’t paid for the content? Digital doesn’t make as much money as print so therefore it’s not important and merely paid lip service. Don’t forget, it’s always hard to spot the dissenters as they are so enthusiastic face to face.

Had this young girl’s father taken the time to understand what she was doing, he may have felt differently about it and the long-term benefit to her and, importantly, himself – she certainly isn’t going to stop and he wouldn’t want her to.

It was a great analogy of Earl Wilkinson’s comment about “two ends of a rope burning toward each other,” and it happened right in front of me. The two of them will meet in the middle one day and everyone will be happy. The real shame was that her father had the power to meet her in the middle right there and then – if only he had looked a little harder.

The traditional media industry’s end of the rope needs to burn a little quicker. But this chap was probably focused on the way he has always done things. Sound familiar?

About Wayne Morgan

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