So I was standing in the supermarket, looking at the myriad of TV guides that you can buy everywhere here in Germany. They all look the same: In the center of the cover, there’s a blonde, smiling, voluptuous, overly photoshopped, female model/actor/musician/TV host on a blue background. At the top, the logo of the guide in huge letters. At the borders, lots of smaller, overly saturated images and flashy typography.
Pretty ugly, pretty repetitive, pretty boring. But: There’s probably a whole office of employees involved to create each of these guides; writing ridiculous “articles”1, putting the TV program into tiny columns, inventing excessively positive movie critiques, and doing the layout of it all. Not to count the people handling advertising, printing, delivery, and whatnot.
As I stood there, I wondered: Why do people even do this kind of stuff?
To be sure, the problem isn’t that there’s a certain style of TV guide being created. The problem is that there are probably two dozen of them, and they all look the same. The problem is that there isn’t real value being created, but just people being occupied.
The usual answer to my question is: “Well, it makes money. Somebody’s gotta do it.”
And we willingly accept this answer, even when it’s utter bullshit that simply emerges from our overvaluation of regular employment and regular paychecks. Or of making money with a mediocre business model as long as possible – and falling into a hole once it stops being profitable. (And it will stop; sooner rather than later.)
The truth is: Nobody’s gotta do it. Why would any even remotely intelligent person be willing to spend their time making yet another TV guide?
Needs and wants differ, of course. Why not be happy working for a glossy magazine? The problem is that merely copying what already exists cannot be sustainable in the long run.
If you’re into gossip and Shakira and red carpets, why not make something worthwhile of it? Why not buy a photo from a decent photographer? Do some post-processing that’s intriguing, instead of simply masking any wrinkles in Shakira’s skin? Spend some time on actual research about Brangelina adopting their 21st child from Ghana and put it into a larger context? Ask a few upcoming musicians to create a remix CD to include as a give-away?
Most certainly, it’s just not worth it: People who buy a TV guide care about the TV program. And nothing more. The articles are like the ridiculous “bonuses” online marketers like to give away with their products. Hollow and useless, but they suggest a value that in reality might just not be there. Similarly, the cover blonde delivers the sex people love to pay for.
And still: Why not make it better?
It doesn’t have to be about passion. But it has to be about quality: I’m fed up with the bullshit that’s being sold in the malls and supermarkets – and on the web. Nobody’s gotta do it. Instead, how about making something that has a longer shelf life than next Sunday?
- I’m talking of print magazines, but these texts don’t even deserve to be called articles. We should just call them posts. [↩]