The Nemesis Gadget

By | September 10, 2003

By Matthew Stanton, Metromemetics LLC

In the early 1990s, conventional wisdom said the World Wide Web spelled doom for print publications, especially newspapers. People said newspapers would be extinct in 20 years.

That prediction is correct.

While sites like and Ebay have taken away large amounts of once secure classified ad revenue, newspapers continue to function well as businesses – many able to extend ad reach and generate new revenue by running their market community’s biggest local Web sites.

The idea newspapers are going to slowly wither away during a span of two decades is wrong. Newspapers will remain dominant in their markets until a viable alternative becomes commercially available – and not just available, but ubiquitous.

Newspapers and magazine operate on a factor of scale. As market share dwindles, the unit cost to reach each targeted audience member goes up. At some point, printing a mass market publication becomes a money-losing venture, and at that point, the newspaper ceases to exist as business.

Sometime between 1990-2010, a “Nemesis Gadget” will be put on the market which will do for newspapers what the Compact Disc did for vinyl albums in the mid-1980s, and what MP3s did for the whole music industry in the 1990s. This device will not necessarily be “better” than a newspaper, but it will fit in users’ lives so closely to the existing print product that people will accept it as their viable alternative.

Suggestions of this shift in behavior can already be seen happening with traditional broadcast products. The hardest hit by the recent new media boom has been television, which relies entirely on selling viewers to advertisers. The loss of eyeballs in the evening to cable channels and Web surfing has impacted television companies’ bottom lines. Imagine what will happen when online multimedia is available cheaply in the palms of everyone’s hands; advertisers’ focus and budgets will move accordingly.

Features of the Nemesis Gadget

In order to become the device which transforms mass media, this Nemesis Gadget must meet these features:

  • Multimedia. The device must have built-in wireless broadband Internet access, must play music and video as well as current devices, and allow for other ways to communicate. Cell phone and/or video teleconferencing functions are likely.
  • Easy to use. No eye strain, no learning curve. People will be able to use the device intuitively.
  • Portable. The device must be lightweight and small enough to fit in a pocket, but expandable in use for better viewing. For example, it may have a screen which unfolds like a road map and snap into a flat, clear surface.
  • Cheap. Will cost less than $500 a year to own and use.
  • Long battery life. The device can be used for weeks before recharging.

Nemesis Almost Here

Gadgets and personal technologies have been obviously moving in this direction for decades: Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows for PCs, Palm Pilots, TablePCs, and multi-function cell phones. Recent generations of cell phones, PDAs and PocketPCs are probably now the direct grandparents of this Nemesis Device. Within two generations of gadgets – five to 10 years – the above criteria will be market standards.

The market change which will follow the post-Nemesis holiday buying season will kill newspapers as a product – but not as a business. The lemmings can already be recognized by looking at how individual newspaper companies reacted to the dot-com craze of the mid-1990s. Some took big risks and invested in exploiting the new medium’s potential, which others adopted harsh protectionist strategies against change. How important was it to protect the existing core print product? Protect for how long?

After Nemesis, the companies which saw themselves as building audiences by selling newspapers will all be dead. Those companies which saw themselves as building audiences by selling news, regardless of sentimentality to method of delivery, will still be around and fighting for their share of the new media advertising market.