Dinosaurs Die; Lizards Soon Starve

Everything must be produced before it is consumed but it is easy to forget the roots when you are enjoying the fruit.    I fear this is happening in the media in regards to the “new media”.   Pew recently issued a report on the media.  It is rich in detail and hyperlinks.  I recommend it.  The new media is killing the old media, but may not provide a viable alternative. 

I am an avid user and producer of the new media, but I recognize that the way the new media lives off the mainstream media is more parasitic than a symbiotic. Most of the reliable information gathering is still done by professionals and paid staff of traditional media.  The new media repackages and reprocess it.   In doing this, they sometimes add significant value.   Maybe the resulting remix is objectively worth more than the raw material.  But you still need the raw material.  Everything must be produced before it can be redistributed or consumed.

The new media produces a lot of free riders.  They consume the information products of the mainstream media (MSM) w/o paying for it. You can get away with this as long as there are strong institutions doing the grunt work. You can even disparage these plodding pedestrians.  They denizens of the old media are not nearly as quick, cool or beautiful as those in the new media, but they do what needs to be done.  Many people in the new media work for nothing.  Some do this voluntarily and they know it; others think their big idea will catch on or they will someday figure out a way to make money off that blog.  Just enough make the breakthrough to bucks and/or fame to keep the others running after the prize.  It is a great way to have fun and foster innovation.   It is not a very good way to produce a product day-in and day-out.   For that you need the plodding pedestrians and you need an income stream.

The business model that supported the old media is collapsing.   I don’t know what will take its place.  Newsweek featured a cover story where the author advocated a kind of iTunes business model.    Others have talked re the problem of making this work.  Micro payments might work, but probably will not.

One of the secrets to iTunes is the long tail. I mean the “tail” on a normal distribution curve.  Most of the sales are made near the center, but iTunes has found that the tails, i.e. the less popular to obscure titles, go on forever.  While they don’t sell many of any particular title, the non-mainstream titles are a group sells very well because there are so many of them.  These titles are often practically free for iTunes and w/o iTunes they would be practically unattainable. Yet iTunes gets $.99 for each of them with almost zero transaction or inventory costs.  The volume of the obscure is a major source of revenue. (Somebody still wants “Cool Water” by the Sons of the Pioneers.) I don’t think you will be able to do that with newspaper articles.   Yesterday’s news is not very valuable to anybody.  Nobody feels nostalgia for the news story their father read back in 1965, as they might for an old song.  So who will buy it?

Most participants on the new media are self-taught, self-regulated and self-directed.  We write about what we like and cover stories as we like to.  The new media is more about opinions and personal viewpoints than it is about facts.  Let me speak as a new media person.  I try to be factual in my writing, but I don’t try to get all sides and I don’t pursue a story after I get sick of it.   I hope what I write is interesting and it may be a supplement to the news, but it is not the news.  All I know about what I don’t see myself comes from the media.  W/o that, I would not know much. 

Some people in the new media like to think of the old media as slow-witted dinosaurs, deserving of extinction.  They see the new media as the quick-witted and adaptive and they are right.   But the new media depends on the old media to an extent most don’t appreciate.  When the dinosaurs die off, the lizards that live off their droppings soon follow.