FROM TC: Yesterday, Newsweek magazine announced it was closing down its print editions after 80 years and would move to an online-only platform in early 2013. This is the latest high-profile example of how the digital world is affecting long-established institutions. As Andrew Sullivan writes below, institutional brands are at a distinct disadvantage online, compared to personal ones. It got me thinking about what this means for arts & culture. The items that follow may provide some insights.

 

Commentary: As shift to Web accelerates, wrenching change awaits institutions

Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Beast, 10/18/12

The shift happened gradually. Even up to a year ago, I was still getting my New York Times on paper. Until a couple of years ago, I read physical books, and then shifted to tablet versions. I now read almost everything on my iPad. Of course a weekly newsmagazine on paper seems nuts to me. But it takes guts to actually make the change. An individual can, overnight. An institution is far more cumbersome. Which is why, I believe, institutional brands will still be at a disadvantage online compared with personal ones. There's a reason why Drudge Report and Huffington Post are named after human beings. When we read online, we migrate to people, not institutions. [And] since every page on the web is now as accessible as every other page, how do you connect writers together, instead of having readers pick individual writers and ignore the rest? The connection between writers is what a magazine is. [Yet] you can't sell bundles anymore; online...you no longer control the gate through which readers have to pass and advertisers get to sponsor. No gateway, no magazine, no revenue. [As Alan Jacobs wrote:] "why not end it now...and go purely digital?" The reason is that huge corporations, massive newsrooms, and deeply ingrained advertising strategies become interests in themselves. Getting that old mindset to accept that everything that it has done as a business model is now over is very, very hard. They often cannot adjust because they are too big to move so quickly and because ....no one really wants change if it means job insecurity. We're human. It's not pleasant realizing the business model for your entire career is kaput. But that doesn't mean the end of journalism, just of the physical objects that convey journalism. So this is a radical change and will be wrenching in transition, but is actually essential to saving the journalism we still need.

 

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Commentary: In U.K., a propitious moment for the arts on digital platforms

Dan Brain, The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network, 10/19/12

How can content-rich arts organisations engage with broadcasters and indies as convergence gathers pace and pressure on funding intensifies? It's a question that numerous conferences, consultants and public institutions have posed for several years now, but could the time finally be fit for an explosion of new creative partnerships? Television leaders and professionals speaking at [a] recent Arts TV Forum supported the theory. Solid viewing figures, increased broadcaster investment, new distribution platforms such as The Space, and the rise of channel-backed arts initiatives like Sky's Ignition programme all seem to lend weight to [a] positive outlook. James Hunt, director of Sky Arts, was excited by the emergence of the channel as a key arts TV player since its launch ten years ago. "In the early days, we were attracting around 220,000 viewers a week. We're now reaching over 2 million," he said. "We're investing around 1.6 million a year on high-profile UK arts projects and supporting young artists through our Futures Fund." [B]ut what of Hunt's west London neighbours at the BBC? "We're still the UK's largest producer of arts programming and continue to attract a huge international audience... contrary to popular belief, we do take creative risks," said BBC commissioner Mark Bell [who] was upbeat about The Space -- the 2.5 million pilot digital arts collaboration between the corporation and Arts Council England. "Content such as John Peel's record archive showed a demand for free, online arts content with 900,000 visiting the site over six months," added Alison Clark-Jenkins, Arts Council's North East director. She went on to say 25% of visitors discovered arts organisations they had not previously engaged with -- a statistic that demonstrates the marketing potential of the platform for participating arts organisations.

 

Commentary: Why digital media can sometimes be a trap for the arts

Greg Sandow on his ArtsJournal.com blog about classical music, 10/17/12

New media -- whether it's used in promotion, or in streaming concerts, or in doing something digital with the music itself -- isn't a key issue. Of course I think that new media, in all the forms I've named (and more), are going to play a crucial role in classical music's future, just as they do in all our current culture. Because the central issue for classical music is to reconnect with current culture, and build a new audience, which of course will be people who live in the culture outside classical music. Once we do that, new media won't even be a topic for discussion, because we'll be immersed in it, just as everybody else is. Before we fully make this switch, though, new media can sometimes be a trap. You can, for instance, get active on Facebook and Twitter, post fabulous out-of-the-box videos on YouTube, maybe showing (if you're an orchestra) your music director and some of your musicians outside the concert hall, doing all kinds of unexpected, fun things. Meanwhile you do the same old things at your concerts. So the new media face you put on doesn't match what people find when they go to your performances, and so you've failed. You've set up expectations that the central things you do -- your performances -- can't meet, and you might find yourself driving your new audience away. Or else you'll  use Facebook and Twitter the wrong way, keeping (let's say) your Facebook page tightly controlled, so it's always on message, and excludes the interactivity -- which means welcoming things people say that even contradict your message -- that new media is all about, and thus is the key to making it work. Though if you do get a lively back-and-forth flow going, now (again) you run the risk of people being disappointed when they come to your performances, and find they're the same top-down events that we've been presenting for generations. I know these things are changing, but if you do new media right, you're entering a new culture which invites -- no, compels -- you to change the way you perform.

 

Met Museum chief: "Our mission is not just the physical audience"

Carol Vogel, The New York Times, 10/11/12

Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said he remembered working for years on sumptuously illustrated, erudite exhibition catalogs only to see them quickly fall out of print. Determined to "bring the Met's scholarly heritage into the digital age," the museum on Friday began MetPublications, an online resource that will allow users to search more than 600 catalogs, journals and bulletins by title, keyword, publication type, theme or collection. Of that number, 368 are out-of-print. It will be possible to obtain on-demand copies of 140 out-of-print books and to get paperbound editions with digitally printed color reproductions through Yale University Press. There will also be links to buy in-print books. For readers seeking a copy of a book in a nearby library, MetPublications can direct them to WorldCat, a global library catalog. Those living closer to the museum can also use Watson online, the Met's catalog of its libraries' holdings. [A]vailable material dates to only the mid-1960s, but Mr. Campbell said publications going back to the museum's founding in 1870 will be added over time. The Met is not the first museum to offer online books and research materials. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others, also have scholarly resources online. "We are all recognizing that our mission is not just the physical audience," Mr. Campbell said. "We're addressing a world audience too."

 

Commentary: The future of libraries in a digital culture

Patricia Martin, The Huffington Post, 10/11/12

In 2011, [public] library usage increased for 36 million Americans. All told, 69% of Americans currently use public libraries. Lately, libraries are playing an unheralded role in the economic recovery by helping people find work and build businesses. Until recently, public libraries had little reason to innovate. Then Google arrived. More disruptive technologies followed, causing an identity crisis for librarians. Now the profession is re-thinking its purpose. [T]he confluence of digitization and a prolonged recession has triggered an evolution that puts a focus on people, not things. Doing so has a ripple effect that invigorates a community. The idea has been backed up by Forrester Research, who asserted that meeting customer needs through  online and off-line touchpoints is essential to community-based innovation. Americans need help navigating a way forward. It's no wonder people are rediscovering their local libraries as a place to begin. That's why libraries need to innovate. Otherwise, they risk becoming an object of nostalgia -- the emotional step right before irrelevance. Research shows when taxpayers stop expecting public institutions to transform, they invite entrenchment. Consider the battle to reform public education in America. The same hollowing-out could happen to America's public libraries at a time when we need them most. There's hope. It's heartening to think that there are more public libraries than McDonald's restaurants in America. Imagine the impact of their re-animation.

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