What’s Old is New: Why Murdoch Doesn’t Get New Media

Much has been written online over the last two days following News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch’s chit-chat with Sky News Australia (see our coverage here and here.)

There’s a ton a different points that can be dissected and debated in the interview, but there was one thing Murdoch said that has been bugging me since I heard him say it: “no web sites anywhere in the world make serious money.”

I don’t dispute that the statement is wrong, but it lacks context and a broader understanding of the space. The obvious point is the definition of “serious money,” which to Murdoch means the hundreds of millions that News Corp makes. He’s entitled to define serious that way, but in reflecting on that we need only to take a look at the rise of News Corp to see that the “serious” money he talks about was a short term aberration over the much longer period of media as a whole.

The News Corp story is one of those Australian fairytale stories that many in Australia know something about. But the best history I’ve read recently came from an American, in the form of Michael Wolff’s biography “The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch.

The biography charts the rise of Murdoch from his inheritance of a single Adelaide newspaper through to the takeover by News Corp of the Wall Street Journal. The book places in context the newspaper (and broader media) industry as it was, and how Murdoch came to change the scene as part of the rise of the media barons in the late 70s and 1980s.

It details succinctly how newspapers were previously often small or family run affairs, often without huge profits or managed to their full potential. Couple to this was the stratospheric rise in newspaper advertising throughout the 1980’s, and the media consolidation as smaller outlets closed or sold out.

Indeed you could say that before the likes of Rupert Murdoch, no one was making serious money from newspapers. Where have we heard that line before?

Unlike newspapers, many with histories going back hundreds of years, the current crop of new media startups are often only years old. This is a time of immense competition online where new models are being experimented on, with the successful models being used as a basis to grow and expand (see AOL for one classic example.) Some are making money, others aren’t, but of course none are making “serious” money yet, just like newspapers once weren’t either.

Perhaps in old age, and combined with a self professed obsession with print, Murdoch can’t see the parallels starring him in the face?

Bronwen Clune told the Media140 conference in Sydney last week that she doesn’t like the label of new media because what we label new media really is just a part of the broader media landscape. Not only was she right, I’d extend that further, because although the online nature may make it new of sorts, the progression of the industry really isn’t anything of the sort, because what we’ve seen in the past with heritage media is now being reflected online, be it at a much faster pace.

Online media may not be making “serious” money yet, but what’s to stop a 21st century Murdoch buying up online outlets to create an entity that does make serious money, or for an existing conglomerate to grow and compete with the media of old? History can and does repeat itself, rich with the knowledge of those that have succeeded and failed before.

(Image: Department of the Internets)