Some readers may recall one of my predictions for 2012 was the end of this column. It’s time for me to start explaining what that’s all about. Next month will mark 25 years of my doing some version of this column either in print or online. It’s not a record (I’m sure John Dvorak has that) but it is a milestone that I’ve been for some time determined to reach. But having achieved 25 years of continuous service, what then? Well there is no gold watch. In fact my transition is, if anything, forced by the declining economics of the web. Facebook has much the same problem.
Desktop computers are at or near their peak and with them the desk-centric World Wide Web. Mobile is on the rise, but mobile economics are different – leaner — than desktop economics. So every month I get more readers and less income. This has been happening now for at least two years, masked a bit by the so-called economic recovery, but the writing is on the wall for dinosaurs like me. We have to evolve or die.
You can see it at Facebook where subscriber growth is slowing, though in Facebook’s case that’s mainly market saturation. You can see it, too, in Facebook’s stagnant earnings (if one quarter can be called stagnant) but the trend both to mobile and to lower base ad revenue are clear. For Facebook (now I’m trying to think like Zuckerberg) this means their IPO was perfectly timed: any later and it would have been even worse.
There’s plenty that Facebook can do and even some that I can do to adapt to this new reality. Facebook, for example, can turn into more of a marketing tool, selling highlighting for commercial posts and maybe priority placement — a transition that will hurt credibility a bit but will also grow earnings by 10X over the next 2-3 years. Weep not for Facebook.
I could do a lot better job of marketing this rag and have, in fact, done some little things. We have Search Engine Optimization (SEO) now, thanks to Jennie Lambert, my web mistress, which might explain why the headlines aren’t as much fun to write or read as they used to be. But I’m basically unwilling to do much more that might compromise content. Link exchanges? Paid guest posts? Not for me.
Or, like Facebook, I could add gambling. Nah.
I could start selling my own ads and save the commission, but that only makes sense for a rag this small if there’s a single advertiser out there who wants to buy my entire ad inventory, hopefully forever. If someone is considering doing just that please let me know right now before I do anything rash.
To be perfectly candid, the value of this thing probably peaked about 12 months ago at around $1 million, so despite past flirtations with Mark Cuban and Om Malik I don’t expect any buy-out offers to come over the transom.
There are more things I could do to stretch out the inevitable as I am sure many commenters will shortly explain, but what’s key here is that any such herculean efforts wouldn’t change the endgame for this column.
And then there’s the fact that I am this week precisely 59-and-a-half years old, which has some relevance if you know about U.S. retirement regulations.
Rather than fade away I prefer to embrace the light and making minor business model tweaks isn’t embracing anything. But I can’t retire, either, because of those three sons ages ten, eight, and six, and their mother with her love of shoes.
So next month, on or near my 25th anniversary, I’ll announce a dramatic change in what I do. I’ll still be writing because that’s all I seem to be good for, frankly, having long ago given up my gigolo ambitions. But the nature of what I write will change as will the places where I write it. Cringely.com won’t disappear because it is too valuable as a brand and my 88 year-old Mom has to have some place she can check up on me, but it will become part of a much greater — and more exciting — whole.
Weep not for me, either.