Plus Ça Change….

Written by Bill Leebens

The full expression is of course, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. If your French is as bad as mine, that may be meaningless—but it translates literally (more or less) as “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”. More flowingly, perhaps, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Or, in the succinct Southern English with which I grew up: “same ol’, same ol'”.

What prompted this? I’ve been talking to some folks in the money biz—and there will likely be a number of stories about those conversations, some day— and I was struck by their universal condemnation of print media. Magazines, newspapers, whatever: all tarred with the same brush. Stay away at all costs, pouring money down the drain, yadda yadda, IT”S DEAD.

Being a natural-born contrarian, I am distrustful of common wisdom; all too often, in my eyes, common wisdom  merely turns out to be shared stupidity. So when someone utters a simplistic truism, I immediately look for loopholes and counter-examples. Maybe that has to do with my time as an IRS tax-examiner, as well.

I digress.

Remember the whole “LPs are dead” pronouncement? While it will never be what it is in, say, 1967, vinyl as an industry is the strongest it’s been in thirty -some years, with existing pressing plants operating at max capacity and new pressing plants popping up all over the place. Did that turn-around just happen? Or is it the result of dilligent (some might say relentless) efforts on the part of people like Michael Fremer, Chad Kassem, and many others?

Maybe a little of both, but I’d lay my money on the latter. So—a decade or so ago, investing in LP production would’ve seemed insane, like putting money into Enron after it vaporized. But now? Guys like Mikey and Chad look prescient, positively VISIONARY (to use yet another overused  buzzword I hate).

I can’t help but think of print media as the analog form of reading media. I don’t see newspapers ever being what they once were, at least for breaking news snippets—that chunk of the market is locked up by digital media. But for in-depth reportage, or lightweight subway/beach reading? Paperbacks, hard covers, magazines definitely have a place. For many folks—like me—a preferred place.

A number of media empires are anchored by print properties, augmented by websites and other digital outposts like You Tube channels. Think of Robb Report, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes: with each one there’s a magazine or newspaper at the core, nicely supplemented by online content. Is the tail wagging the dog? Maybe—but the combination of print and pixels is stronger than either would be alone.

So why the lack of love from venture capital and private equity folks? Is it because there’s no way of shorting their investments, of betting against an idea?

Whatever the reason, I think those folks are being short-sighted. Like an LP itself, spinning on the platter…what goes around, comes around. Mark my words: print ain’t dead. Not by a long shot. I’ll betcha that some savvy print investments will have their shareholders laughing all the way to the bank.

Check back with me in ten years—okay?

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