Back when he was inventing it, Al Gore used to call the World Wide Web “the information superhighway.” Now, a couple of decades into the wired age, that superhighway metaphor has become reality. And, just like any U.S. highway, our information interstate has its share of billboards and potholes, and even road kill.
Among the analog possums and armadillos littering the shoulder of our digital turnpike are such creatures as the daily print newspaper and the record company. Well, they aren’t exactly dead yet. But they’ve both been hit, they’re bleeding, and the turkey vultures are swarming close.
Of course, there is a difference between the newspaper and the record company. Some of us old guys will miss the daily paper. But when the last record company heaves its death rattle, the whole world will say “good riddance.”
What the newspapers have is a cash-flow problem. They embraced the Internet enthusiastically in 1994, and their rapidly evolving Web sites provide a perfectly adequate vehicle for continuing the practice of independent journalism. The problem is that the public resists paying for online content, and Internet advertising is still far less lucrative than its print equivalent. In addition, the papers still drag the dead weight of all those 20th-century printing presses and delivery trucks.