Responding to uber-libertarian William Safire’s condemnation of media concentration, Arnold Kling says that big media are failing because they have too much competition. I wouldn’t disagree with that. He goes on to say that they should be allowed to fail if they can’t make it in the marketplace. He’s right. And then he says that therefore we shouldn’t stand in the way of media mergers. And he’s dead wrong about that.
Given my view of the causes of the decline of newspapers, broadcast TV, and radio, trying to save those media by preventing mergers is pointless. Big media is failing, not succeeding. As an economist, I say let it fail.
People’s use of media is changing. Newspapers are in a steady decline before they drop off the cliff of an inflection point. The networks are living on borrowed time. The recording industry is circling the wagons. And radio is in chaos.
Yet, none of these media are going away. They’re going to be savagely restructured, find new audiences, dramatically alter their value chains, and generally change into something we can’t even anticipate.
No one is trying to prevent the “failure” of existing media businesses. On the contrary, the fight against media concentration is a fight to preserve a competitive market from becoming an oligopoly of protected franchises.
I’d rather have thousands of individual media outlets desperately seeking new markets and ideas, rather than six big companies struggling to find synergy where none exists by stripping the media of assets and talent, using “convergence” as an excuse for eliminating local production, using the media they own to subsidize their other failing businesses, and generally managing our media as a dying cash cow.