Pandemic Challenges Ad-based Business Models

New Orleans    One of the stark realities undergirding a number of industries that has been vividly exposed during the current coronavirus pandemic is the fragility of advertising-based business models that actually power tech giants and publications.   We might think the news is what counts or building connections and doing good, as the Techsters have argued, but much of it is still basic mercantilism.  Too many of these industries, old and new, are the packaging and distribution system in the sell-and-buy of commerce.  When these outlets are shutdown, the chain reaction goes back upstream to the source.  If there are no sales at the source, then there is no advertising downstream.

We desperately need the news and newspapers, but this is a fraught business model.  For those of us who still subscribe to daily papers, we are paying more for less on an annual basis.  The paper size has shrunk and the number of pages has diminished, even as the price per edition has increased.  All of which makes it a little shocking to get a direct appeal for donations to these profit-making enterprises during the pandemic.  Nonetheless, I received that appeal in New Orleans from the local paper, and even from Arkansas where they send me an email on a daily basis as a radio station manager.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune and Advocate has reportedly laid off another 10% of its staff.  On-line publications are a hope for the future by some lights, but in the middle of a pandemic where there is mass unemployment and all nonprofits from membership-based community organizations, like ACORN, to food banks are stretched past the breaking point, how does anyone rank them first on the list?

On the tech-side, it’s more of whine than a roar.  Facebook claimed it was barely “keeping the doors open,” but they are sitting on billions and experiencing massive traffic and membership increases as people are using their social media outlets by default while staying at home.  Yet, advertising fuels Facebook and Google.  People are certainly shopping online, but as unemployment soars and whole cities are shutdown, ads are not going to produce more sales and businesses whether Macy’s or Gap or thousands of others are not going to be advertising without income.  They are caught in an interesting dilemma.  The internet demands to be free, as the slogan goes.   These are mass-based forums.  A paywall would be death to that dream.

In the main, newspapers seem to have long ago abandoned the real prospects of being mass-based on daily circulations and subscriptions.  There may be daily Food and Living sections in papers big and small, but the number of papers with a regular labor section, column, or even a labor reporter is miniscule, if not zero.  The mass of Americans is an afterthought.  Small wonder that regular people are getting their news, no matter how slanted, from television, radio, and social media, where we don’t pay in most cases, and can’t buy anyway.

The pandemic seems to be reminding us that none of this is sustainable.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Class and Culture Clashes

New Orleans      Ok, let’s be clear, everything about the pandemic sucks, alright?  For the most part we don’t hate our homes, but we definitely don’t like being told we have to stay at home.  Attach the word, “order,” to it and it brings out the deep vein of anarchism that is normally masked as individualism in America.

Saying all that, one thing I personally just love is the huge fault-line around class and culture that has been exposed so vividly during this crisis.  This is part of why Trump, born to the tower, had to be slapped around by the polls and public health experts, so he would finally get the fact that the little people at the bottom really don’t want to die for the sake of the stock market and the big donors’ businesses.

How can you not enjoy the contradictions that are revealed in all the stories about the rich and their wannabes finding resistance from their stay-at-home neighbors as they decamp from the big cities to their summer and second-home haunts?  Some of these small town, rich enclaves are finding that the doggone mayors, elected by the permanent residents, are trying to tell them go back where you belong and don’t bring the virus around here.  Even if it’s a little bit of biting the hand that feeds them, there’s a lesson being taught here about privilege.

I loved a piece by Amanda Hess in the New York Times that just kicked the celebrity culture crush in the butt and called one after another out for their cluelessness about the working class and the public at large.  The headline was, “You’re a Celebrity, Who Cares?” Amen!

I’ll admit that a longstanding personal grievance I have with the Times has always been the daily Arts section.  In the tunnel vision from New York, we’re supposed to care more for random people and personalities in the arts, theater, films, and so forth than people in any other field of endeavor, often with our lives and futures in their hands.  I’m not saying none of that is important or of value, but I find the lack of balance and its special treatment so elitist and classist that it just galls me.  To finally hear one of their own who speaks through the Critics Notebook column call them out is not just refreshing, but exhilarating.  Of course, she’s also somewhat “one of them” who appreciates the molding in Robert DeNiro’s house, the Craftsman beams elsewhere and the equine wallpaper next to Zo Kravitz’s fireplace, which, frankly, most of us wouldn’t have noticed, but, nonetheless, we all get the point.

She says we are watching the “swift dismantling of the cult of celebrity,” so we say, hip-hip-hooray!  She adds that, “The #guillotine2020 hashtag is jumping.  As grocery aisles turn bare, some have suggested that perhaps they ought to eat the rich.”  Whoa, you, go sister!  She busts on Pharrell Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Gal Godot, J-Lo and Alex Rodriguez, and, then devastates Madonna.  This Jenny from the hood shtick is dead and gone.

And, let’s hear it for Louisiana home girl, Brittney Spears.  Yes, you heard me, hit it again, Brittney Spears.  I’ll let comrade Hess take it home,

Give me Brittney Spears, who has emerged from the crisis as the rare celebrity to tap into the need for radical social change.  Spears recently posted a bright yellow manifesto on Instagram from the internet artist Mimi Zhu.  “We will feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike,” it reads.  “Communion moves beyond walls.”  Spears added three red roses to the caption, an ambiguous symbol reflecting either her support for the Democratic Socialists of America or perhaps simply her affinity for floral emoji.  Spears is an unexpected figure to lead us through quarantine, but a fitting one:  She has been under a conservatorship for 12 years, her movements and finances controlled by her father and overseen by the courts.  When she posts about finding community in social captivity, she knows what’s she’s talking about.”

Right on!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail