Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nitpicking an Advertisement's History

There is a new ad celebrating magazines (you can see the text and accompanying picture of Michael Phelps here, though I cannot find a version that replicates the version I have seen in several magazines) and I generally like it. I love magazines, subscribe to a ridiculous amount that I cannot possibly keep up with, and believe that it is the print medium other than books that I hope weathers the storm. And one of the main points of the ad is that magazines are flourishing even as newspapers, say, are going belly up.

But one of the assertions has been grinding my gears. It is as follows:

What it proves, once again, is that a new medium doesn’t necessarily displace an existing one. Just as movies didn’t kill radio. Just as TV didn’t kill movies. An established medium can continue to flourish so long as it continues to offer a unique experience. And, as reader loyalty and growth demonstrate, magazines do.

The larger point stands. But I have a historical quibble: Why would movies have killed radio? They antedated radio. Radio did not become a mass consumer diversion until the 1920s. Movies were already a well established form of mass entertainment. Birth of a Nation, after all, was released to wide acclaim in 1915 and is known to have transformed the medium, meaning that there was already a movie industry. Yes, there was crude technology for radio as far back as the 19th century, but the first public broadcasts did not occur until right around 1920.

Am I nitpicking? Sure. But someone got paid an awful lot of money to place this ad in some of the most prestigious magazines in America. Is it really asking all that much to ask them to get facts right that are at the foundation of their argument?

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