National Commentary

Anything But Straight: The Future of Gay News

In one of the most important articles of the year, Walter Isaacson wrote in Time Magazine about the shredding of the newspaper business.

With free content available online, people are dropping daily subscriptions and newsstand sales are declining. The only way for newspapers to remain profitable is through advertising revenue in the print and online editions.

The problem with this business model, however, is that it leaves newsrooms beholden to advertising interests instead of readers. And, if the economy goes into a tailspin, precipitous drops in advertising can quickly lead to ruin. Isaacson says the way to save the news business is to move to a paradigm where newspapers go completely digital and readers pay directly for online content. For example, a web surfer who wants to read an individual story online can pay a nickel – or pay a larger fee for a weekly e-subscription.

The main obstacle is creating technology that makes reading e-news as pleasurable as the newspaper experience. Within a few years, however, new technology will make this possible, with several products scheduled to hit the market.

If mainstream newspapers are having a difficult time, it should be no surprise that gay and lesbian publications are disappearing faster than a rabbit at a magic show. There is a long list of venerable GLBT publications that have recently vanished.

Earlier this month, Gay City News reported, “the investment fund that owns the Washington Blade, the Southern Voice, Genre magazine, and other gay publications has been forced into receivership by the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), which will sell the fund’s assets and distribute the proceeds to investors.”

When the technology reaches fruition, the GLBT media should embrace Isaacson’s model. The gay community’s top reporters do a superior job covering the news and offer in-depth analysis that can’t be duplicated. I am willing to bet that people will pay for such content.

The question is, will the publications themselves actually survive or will the GLBT media become a collection of enterprising freelance reporters who sell by the story? While most items would not bring a large bounty – there would likely be a couple of breaking stories that would pay the bills. For example, a blockbuster story with 250,000 downloads at a nickel per purchase would yield $12,500.

Of course, new technology would also have to make it more difficult to cut and paste more than one paragraph per story. And, much like cameras that take pictures of those that run red lights, an electronic surveillance system that imposed small penalties – perhaps a dollar per infraction – would have to be developed. There would always be ways to get around the system. But, one would hope that enough people would have the decency to pay for good reporting to make it work.

GLBT bloggers should also welcome changes where they would actually get paid for their labor. It is disgraceful that some of our leading lights are posting during lunch breaks at their day jobs. Given their influence and size of their audiences, it is absurd that they have not reaped enough wealth to blog full-time.

Fans may balk, but they must realize they are also getting shortchanged. Imagine how much better most blogs would be if the writers had another 8-10 hours a day to conduct research? The products would be infinitely superior and be of greater value. Ultimately, the axiom, “you get what you pay for” rings true.

People must also realize that the status quo will soon lead to burnout among the best bloggers. Without a financial incentive commensurate with their work, don’t be surprised when your favorite bloggers choose relationships over readership. If you don’t pay, many will fade away – which would be a great loss to the GLBT community.

In order for this business model to work, the leading bloggers, gossip sites and journalists will have to create a new type of union – where they jump off the cliff all at once. There would also be an initial loss of readers, but who cares? The writer would still make more money by retaining a subset of paying readers. And, many of the dissenters would come back when they realized the true value of a product they once viewed as their birthright.

On a similar note, the continued improvement of E-book technology may save the GLBT publishing industry. On March 29, the legendary Oscar Wilde bookstore will close in Greenwich Village, citing economic trouble. This follows the demise of the famed bookstore Crossroads Market in Dallas.

With few venues to sell books and fewer publishers, it is a tough time for gay authors. While the major retailers have GLBT sections, rarely do these books receive prime shelf space. E-books may be a way to cut out the middleman, save on printing costs and let gay authors sell directly to the reading public. Best of all, no more hand cramps from book signings!

The article in Time Magazine showed that the very concept of a magazine was a relic beyond its time. In the end, the tumultuous changes forced by the recession may be what resuscitates and revolutionizes the GLBT publishing industry.