It’s 3:15am and Outlook bings. That’ll be Ted Turner, I think – before remembering that Outlook isn’t a fax machine and I’m not Hunter S. Thompson. In any event, it’s Waitrose.
“This email is a gentle reminder that you could be running out of groceries and therefore may need to place another order with Ocado.“
Shit, they’re right. I am running out of groceries. We’re all running out of groceries. And it’s a situation that Waitrose is really concerned about. They sent me a postcard yesterday, saying much the same thing, personalised with my street name. Thank God someone invented the future or we’d never have any of this shit.
Another thing we wouldn’t have is speed dating – truly, honestly the most reliable indicator we have that humanity, as a species, has jumped the shark; the carnal equivalent of the conveyor-belt round on the Generation Game, with human meat in place of blenders and cuddly bears. List all the people you can remember and win their Hotmail addresses. Good game.
Incidentally a useful first question to ask when you meet someone for the first time – male or female – is whether they’ve ever tried speed dating. If they have, and they’re not a features hack from the Guardian or Grazia, simply turn on your heel and walk away. There is nothing for you there. That’s good solid advice and you’d be well advised to take it.
And so perhaps someone could explain why I’ve accepted an invitation to go ‘Speed Networking’ tonight. Grim fascination perhaps. Is this really what the entrepreneurial community has sunk to? Whoring ourselves to our peers in the hope of a business card or an awkward follow-up meeting to explore synergy? At least proper Speed Dating gives you the faint chance of waking up hungover next to a features hack from Grazia the next morning. Although, again, I’d advise against it, lest you end up being the subject of their ‘dating’ column for the next three months.
Truth is, I’m getting sucked in deeper and deeper to the whole world of the business of media, as opposed to just the art. I’m fascinated by the people. They’re not that different from journalists, really. They boast, they brag, they keep anti-social hours, they work their arses off and, of course, they drink to enormous and admirable excess. Difference is they – that is, those who pay the wages of the journalists and the writers – have the money to do it properly.
Exhibit: during my last descent into the murky entrepreneurial speak-easy that is Adam Street, Robert Loch (media entrepreneur, former near-inhabitant of a Saudi jail and public face of networking Mecca, Soflow) insisted that I order their newest cocktail, the ‘Bobby Loch’. He’d spent so much there that they’d put him on the menu. Six parts rum to one part Kia-Ora to two parts impressive to one part weird.
Somewhere, some part of my brain is writing a book about these people. The all-new upstart media elite. Those that will come into their own when Murdoch dies. If not before. Jobs is running Disney now, de facto. Brin and Bezos will own book publishing before the decade is out, if they don’t already. Janus Friis is nailing the telcos. Half the record labels in the world are run by da kids. And you know what’s great about this New Media Elite? They’re dreamers. They’re visionaries. None of them gives a fuck about how things are supposed to be done, how money is supposed to be made. In fact, at times some of them forget that money is supposed to be made.
Establishment: “First we release to the movie theatres. Then pay-per-view. Then DVD.”
Soderbergh: “Fuck it. Let’s do it all at the same time.”
Establishment: “And this is where the colo(u)rists sit.”
Jobs: “Let’s use computers for everything.”
Establishment: “And this is where the lawyers sit.”
Jobs: “Let’s make it easier to pay to download music.”
Establishment: “And this is where the out of print books sit and rot.”
Amazon: “Customers who bought this, also bought…”
Establishment: “Hey dude, have you seen ‘Bubble’?”
Brin: “Yeah, it blows, no wonder it’s gone straight to DVD.”
In fact, the only medium that shows no sign of a generation shift, in the UK at least, is newspapers. Barriers of entry are too high. Advertising on the downslide. National dominance. No room for local players. And they’re just plain not sexy enough to interest the New Media Elite. In New York they have young entrepreneurial weeklies like The Village Voice and The Observer and The New York Press. Except they’re not anything like young any more. Where once they were cutting edge and anti-establishment – Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Electric Kool Aid Tiny Mummies Sticking It To The Man, man – now they’re as old as the sun.
London has the Metro, the Standard and the Standard lite. Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Owner. And not a single alt-weekly, young or old. Unless you’re a pervert, work in a Walkabout or are looking for a job as a legal secretary, forget it, sonny. Move along. Nothing to see here. Scandalous. Shameful.
Fact: If you’re a young media type today with ambitions to create a local buzz, you sure as hell don’t look to print. You build Gawker. Or Gothamist, or The Big Smoker, which you design to look like Gothamist so they’ll acquire you, which they do. Fact.
What’s so off-putting about being a newspaper entrepreneur? Maybe it’s the cost of print, versus the difficulty in getting advertisers. Last year Damian Kahya founded The London Line, an alt-weekly for London that lasted for three months before folding. £14,000 a week to produce each issue and issue three brought in less than £60 of ad revenue. Don’t ask me how I know that.
But then The London Line wasn’t great. Big ambitions, for sure; read like a student newspaper. Like The London News Review at its worst – I’m a fine one to talk. But then the Metro is far, far worse than the London Line ever was – even now they have Holy Moly! on the payroll – and yet it shifts almost half a million copies a day, and gets the advertisers. And don’t even get me started on City AM.
So maybe it’s about distribution. Maybe that’s the barrier to entry that puts off the entrepreneur. Or maybe Londoners are too fucking stupid or lazy to appreciate good print journalism. Maybe they’re forgotten what it is. Like in Planet of the Apes, where they’ve forgotten that humans can talk.
Jesus, you know what, if I had money to burn, I’d corral a load of writers and editors into a room and force them – with drums and carrots and sticks – to create the alt-weekly that London deserves – something that does all the things the Village Voice or the New York Press does, but with the London Eye slapped on the masthead. I’d print half a million copies and I’d pay an army of students to stand outside tube stations swapping commuters’ Metros for something different, and better. Just to see what would happen. To see, once and for all, whether people actually want to read something good.
And if it turns out that they do want something good, I’d get some more money, and some people who know how to sell ads, and I’d publish it every week. And lots of media entrepreneurs would copy me, in cities all across the country. And national newspapers, already forced to rely on features rather than hard news to shift copies, would be forced to adapt again to stop the alt-weeklies stealing their readers. And people would start reading newspapers again. And the print media would be saved for another generation.
But if they don’t, then at least I’d know. At least we’d all know. We’d all know that the reason the New Media Elite is revolutionising everything except newspapers is that newspapers are dead.
I reckon £100k should do it, to get the stone rolling. A small price to pay for understanding the problem (at worst) and fixing it, regenerating the last unregenerated part of the media business and getting rich in the process (at best).
Who’s with me? Come on, let’s set a date. I’ll bring the speed.