Sooner or later, you pay for it
The trick the music industry has pulled off is to make teenagers crave the smell and feel of vinyl.
The Sunday Telegraph is not usually a paper that cheers me up. But it did so the other day with a page-three lead reporting the return of the vinyl single. Annual sales are back above a million (having been below 200,000 five years ago), with two-thirds of Arctic Monkeys singles being bought in vinyl.
"Kids think vinyl is really cool," said a spokesman for HMV.
My good cheer was not explained by nostalgia for old-style 45rpm records. I was always too clumsy to handle them with the necessary delicacy, and I never quite mastered the art of changing a gramophone needle. Nor, unlike Gordon Brown, do I ever wake up in the mornings to the sound of Arctic Monkeys. But the story prompted the reflection that, if vinyl has a future, surely newspapers must, too.
The revival of vinyl, like most musical trends, is probably a PR creation. Now that CD recordings can be downloaded free from the internet, vinyl - like live concerts, which are also enjoying a revival - is a way of making money out of music again.
Capitalism abhors anything that is free. If you are getting something for nothing, capitalism will eventually find a way of persuading you to pay for it. Exercise used to be free; people went for brisk walks or scrubbed their front steps. Now they are persuaded that they must go to the gym. The story is similar with water.
The trick the music industry has pulled off is to make record covers collectable items once more, and to persuade teenagers that they should crave the smell and feel of vinyl. Newspapers need to do something similar. I do not pretend to know how, but it should not be very difficult.
Think of how framed newspaper pages are used for wall decoration, just as record covers are. Think of the sensual pleasure that people get from handling glossy magazines. Think of the advertising campaigns based on persuading readers that a particular paper is the right one to be seen with.
None of this is to deny that newspapers need to continue developing their web activities. Nor is it to deny that newspapers will have fewer readers and advertisers and will, therefore, have to charge higher prices. That is precisely why they would be foolish to neglect the quality of their core products. The present danger is that most management energy is going into multimedia developments, and that the iPods, the videos and the audios become the tails that wag the dog.
Contrary to the jeremiads, I believe that paid-for print has a future, but only if it is nurtured very carefully.
Uncle Tom cobblers
Who has the biggest byline picture in the Daily Mail? Not Richard Littlejohn, not Allison Pearson, not even Melanie Phillips. The biggest Mail face belongs to Tom Utley, who writes a column next to the leader every Friday.
Who, you may ask, is Utley? He is the son of the late T E Utley, the blind and cerebral Daily Telegraph pundit, a prophet of Thatcherism who was described by the Iron Lady herself as "quite simply, the most important Tory thinker of our time". Until recently, the younger Utley also wrote for the Telegraph, but was wooed to the Mail by a six-figure salary.
Why the large photo? Utley, I venture, is intended to remind middle-aged, Middle England Daily Mail readers of the wise, kindly uncles of their childhood, and, when you are a child, an uncle's face looks big but also reassuring. Middle England uncles do not rant, as Littlejohn and Phillips do, but they have conservative views, which draw on deep wells of common sense.
And common sense has allowed Utley to remain a sceptic on the subject of global warming.
As I have noted in previous columns, the Sun and the Times have converted to the theory of man-made global warming. The Murdoch family has gone green, with Rupert telling a conference that News Corp is "going to be absolutely carbon-neutral" and his son James, BSkyB's chief executive, writing in the Guardian last Monday that climate change and CO2 emissions are "the biggest intergenerational issue the world faces".
But Utley, like all wise, kindly uncles, drinks gin and tonic. He puts ice in it, so the level reaches the brim of his glass. The ice melts yet the glass doesn't overflow. Ergo, melting ice at the poles isn't a threat.
The extent of Arctic summer ice has shrunk by a third since the early 1980s, but Utley points out that Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk - the sort of place where uncles used to take their holidays - is not yet actually under the sea. Moreover, uncles wear pullovers and Utley has noticed that "we still seem to need our pullovers in the winter".
Silly scientists! If they had just asked a wise uncle, they could have saved themselves and the rest of us a lot of unnecessary worry.
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