Hope isn’t exactly “busting out all over,” but two examples of at least guarded optimism for the business model of mainstream media came to my attention in as many days.
In an article in Columbia Journalism Review, “A Second Chance,” Curtis Brainard says that mobile devices might just be the key. He writes:
… Media outlets are still having a tough time seeing beyond their own dwindling print runs, and it was only three years ago that electronic paper helped incite what has been called the “e-reading revolution.” It’s not much of a revolution yet, but what is increasingly apparent is that mobile devices have the potential to offer the journalism business that rare and beautiful thing: a second chance—another shot at monetizing digital content and ensuring future profitability that was missed during the advent of Web 1.0. ¶ I use the word “potential” because there are many ifs and unknowns undergirding this notion of a second chance. But I use it also because so much of the hype about how e-readers could save journalism that has poured forth since the release of the iPad in April (actually, such articles have been appearing since the launch of the Kindle in 2007), ignores—or fails to grasp—what’s really going on. …
Then I got a link to an On The Media [WNYC for NPR] program on newspaper economics from 15 July that I’d missed. It had a variety of opinions about the economic future of newspapers, some of them unfashionably optimistic. I liked their approach to the topic. Toward the end, though, they quote from Clay Shirky’s March 2009 essay, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable:
… Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify. ¶ And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. ¶ There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
In previous posts here and presentations I’ve given, I’ve stated that my own view is pretty close to that of Kevin Kelly, who asks in his by now classic “Better Than Free” essay, if content can generally be freely copied on the internet, what is it for which we can charge? You sell things which cannot be copied, which he calls “generatives” and lists eight of them in the essay. He writes:
… A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfe3ited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold. …
I’ve spent my whole professional life in public media and his generatives resonate particularly well, but they would seem to for other mainstream media as well. That’s not to say that some forms of paid content won’t be successful. I’m a happy Netflix subscriber, for example. But smart people need to apply as much thought to those eight and other “generatives” as they do to resuscitating the legacy business model of their medium.
Thanks to Steve Rathe for the CJR link and to David Liroff for the OTM link. --Dennis