Let's be clear about this. It's never a bad idea to apply the following (made-famous-thanks-to-Watergate) rule when trying to figure out what's really going on: Follow the money.

The major money exchange, where the media are concerned, is between advertisers and the newspaper, television or radio station, Internet site, or what have you. Forget this at your peril.

So when you spend 50 cents (or whatever the appropriate quantity of currency is in your jurisdiction) for a newspaper, do not for one second think that you're paying any significant percentage of what it costs to deliver that newspaper to your box. Why do you think subscribers get such a discount?

A subscriber is a person the newspaper's advertising managers can reasonably claim to advertisers will read the newspaper every day and, therefore, see the advertiser's ad. He or she is actually worth more than one reader, because chances are one subscription is going to a household where it'll be read by more than one person.

If you can extract budget figures from your local newspaper, you'll discover that it costs something approximately like two to three dollars to produce one fifty-cent copy.

Your eyes are worth more than your cheque.

There are two ways a media outlet can go, given this information. One is to go for the mass demographic: lots of relatively low-quality readers/viewers/listeners. There's plenty of money to be made going for sheer numbers. The alternative is to aim for a niche market of discerning consumers. Highly educated, usually, with high-end tastes. Very few of them, but with the benefit of some market research surveys, the ad managers can show their clients that the percentage of potential customers is much higher.

If you read a newspaper or pay attention to a broadcast outlet that publicly boasts it's number one in its market, be aware that its senior administrators don't think much of you.

Let's be clear.

The media are selling you.

Added July 16, 2002:

Without wanting to get into a pissing match with tooblasted, I'd point out that the ratio of single-copy price to production cost will vary from paper to paper and market to market (and currency to currency), and I didn't make the rough 4:1 ratio up out of thin air. With most television stations, furthermore, the price to watch is nil. in any event, the specific ratio matters less than the principle: that the key exchange is between outlet and advertiser, not outlet and reader or viewer.

I'm alarmed by some of the softlinks I see. Selling eyeballs to advertisers isn't the same thing as feeding readers or viewers pablumized news to make them passive cogs in the corporate machine. You can get rich selling high-end, very good journalism to the right market, just as you can get rich producing opera, if you're shrewd about it.

Advertising isn't inherentlyevil. Just don't forget why it's there.

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