While I was away last week, it was announced that Harris Publications closed it’s doors. On one level, I can’t say I was surprised. As an industry professional I understand there are some major issues facing the firearms media properties these days. But on the other hand, I admit I wouldn’t have predicted a “complete stop” to a NYC based publishing house either. Maybe a sale? Or a switch to electronic media only? But shutting down? I didn’t see that coming.
People smarter than me, who have more contacts inside of Harris than I have, will write the final obituary over their corpse. But the death of gun magazines isn’t the real, “real threat” facing gun media these days. That’s a separate issue driven by technology and economics that affects everyone.
These days, the REAL threat to firearms media is censorship. You see, too many of the new-media businesses are single source dependent, or damn near, with one or two major companies or outlets. A prime example would be the recent drama faced by the popular Youtube Channel Hickok45.
All of a sudden without warning or notice, Hickok woke up to find his Youtube channel shutdown. Let me put that in B-school perspective. After 8 or 10 years of blood, sweat and tears posting almost 1000 videos, building an audience, a brand, a community, and a online identity; Google (The parent of Youtube) decided to take it all away. With the flip of one virtual switch.
About 4 years ago, we started to look at our business and worry about the same thing. For us it was Facebook. We were WAY too Facebook centric. And it didn’t take much war-gaming to see that if Facebook turned on us, we would be screwed. And one day…it happened. We had seen a MEME on FB and decided to post it to our page. Well…we learned that Facebook operates on a double standard. Things you as an individual can post with no issues, could easily get us locked out or even shutdown. They locked us out for a few days.
But we were ready.
Within a few days, Tacticaltshirts expanded to more social media properties. We moved to a newsletter model. And we opened a second website that is our “gun lifestyle” blog: www.john1911.com Our website. Our rules. We can post whatever we want here.
One only has to look at the past to see the future for the firearms media businesses. I have already discussed the Hickok45 shutdown and how much coverage that ended up getting nationwide. And I am sure most of you know of other Youtube channels and Facebook pages that have been shutdown as well. And that is Google and Facebook’s right. Their properties, their rules. No freedom of speech there. (Sorry. If you don’t understand that, I suspect you went to public school).
But what surprises me is how few of my peers see what is coming. It was reported that Hickok45 wasn’t shutdown by a rogue employee with an ax to grind. No. He was shutdown by a “bot” or computer algorithm that looks for certain kinds of content and deletes it. Just look at the average surviving, private Facebook “gun” group. Almost daily you will read posts by members complaining that they have “spies” in their midsts reporting their for sale ads to corporate. Don’t these guys realize it’s data-mining that is doing that? Automatically. It’s not people. You can’t have a private, secret, group on Facebook that locks out…Facebook, Dummy!
All it’s going to take is another Newtown type event and you will see Facebook and Google implement policies that “ban assault weapons” from their sites. And the bots will go to work removing 95% of content very easily. Read that as destroying businesses. The very businesses and content most of you reading this are interested in.
Let me give other examples. I recall when you could sell guns on E-bay and openly pay for guns with Paypal. No more. Ditto Craigslist. Also…are you aware that Google intentionally downgrades and skews results for any website that sells firearms or has firearms listings? I’m still surprised at how few gun-folks have figured that out.
Here’s how to test it yourself. Come up with some esoteric firearms one may wish to buy. Type those descriptions into Google and look at the first couple of pages of results. Now use those same terms and enter them in small, independent search engines that don’t actually use Google. What you see might surprise you. Been going on for years and years. Quietly of course. And no-one bats an eye.
If you are in the firearms industry, it is my personal opinion that you need to diversify away from the major media properties. You need to own your own content (Check the Youtube TOS on licensing for example) and have a way for YOUR fans to find you without needing to go through a 3rd party. You need to have your own website. And frankly, you’ll probably need to have your own smart-phone app as well. I expect we’ll have, no actually need, an app within a year.
Harris went down with a whimper. If you are in electronic media, try to make sure you can survive a few of the inevitable booms that are coming.
“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”