Dean Singleton’s Metaphor
At PaidContent.org, Staci D. Kramer chats with Associated Press chairman (and MediaNews CEO) Dean Singleton about the AP’s Monday announcement that it’s going to … do something. (Seriously, that’s pretty much all the AP said.) What really jumped out at me from the back-and-forth was this Singleton quote: “I think print’s going to be important for a long time. Print is still the meat. Online’s the salt and pepper.”
Returns tend to diminish quickly in games of No, It’s More Like This Metaphor, but I can’t let that one go by, because it seems really off to me. Print is not the meat, and online is neither the salt nor the pepper. The news is the meat — print vs. online is a discussion of how the meat is raised, prepared, delivered and packaged, which is something totally different.
With that new starting point, let’s try the metaphor again and see where it gets us. (Please note: I’m not using butcher as a charged metaphor — I’m just going with what I was given.)
Meat used to be obtained directly from butchers who knew an enormous amount about cattle and had served long apprenticeships that gave them expertise in cutting and preparing meat — and who were also pretty much your only source if you wanted to put steaks or burgers on the table. Now consumers overwhelmingly want to go to the big new shiny supermarkets that have moved into town. They like not having to go from store to store for everything they need and they’ve become infatuated with all these extra choices. And the way they obtain meat is now very different: They want it waiting for them packaged in an assortment of cuts, and they no longer spend an enormous amount of time chatting with the butchers who work for the supermarkets and making use of their training and their advice.
A lot of butchers complain that this new way of doing things isn’t as good as the old way. They’re working harder for less — and tragically, fewer of them are working at all. They argue that customers will no longer pay what the best cuts of meat really cost, and are going home with inferior steaks and chops. Some customers are even buying their meat outside the supermarket, at delis and convenience stores and from guys setting up little roadside smokehouses. Whereever they’re getting it, a lot of customers seem like they no longer really understand how that meat gets to their table, going through life completely ignorant of all the time and care and money it takes to make a good steak.
And you know what? The butchers may well be right about all this. They are working harder for less money, and there is reason to worry that their skills will be lost, and that we will be lessened for not understanding how food gets to our tables. And it’s not the butchers’ fault — it was their bosses who responded to the rise of supermarkets by opening lackluster ones when they bothered opening them at all.
But the customers have spoken. Right or wrong, they aren’t going to the neighborhood butchers in sufficient numbers to support all the ones who used to have shops. And despite the campaigns of some in the Butchers Guild, no one is going to order the supermarkets closed or give butcher shops extra money to do things they old way or succeed in taking the meat out of supermarkets or cajole supermarkets into paying far more for meat.
If you’re a butcher or responsible for the livelihood of butchers, what do you do? Well, you could gulp and open your own shop anyway — some entrepreneurial butchers still do pretty well, even today. You could try an approach nobody’s tried before — maybe there are customers who will pay a premium for you to deliver meat to their homes and prepare it in front of them, with an explanation of how it was raised and how best to cook it.
Or while trying these things, you could work at translating a butcher’s skills to the new setting of the supermarket, figuring out which tried-and-true skills still have value and which new skills butchers need to learn. Because we all have to eat.
Subscribe to comments with RSS.
Comments are closed.