Posts tagged ‘Chris Anderson’
Free It isn’t a new topic, but it’s worth revisiting as it’s a tough one for companies and their agencies to get into their bones. This is not surprising. Telling a businessman he must give his product away in order to make money sounds absurd on its surface. It brings to mind Clov in Waiting for Godot, who famously said: “If I don’t kill that rat, he’ll die.”
If we look at the topic a little more closely, however, it becomes less absurd. Indeed, it almost makes sense. As we move from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance (think digital assets with zero marginal cost of reproduction), how do you make money by giving something away? Increasingly, this is the central question more and more businesses will have to answer. And getting the answer wrong–or worse still, ignoring the question altogether–will earn you an express ticket to failure.
Media and the means of distribution are stronger than any one company or industry. You can’t fight them. It’s like opposing plate tectonics; there’s no point to it. Driven by these media and distribution forces, certain products “want” to be free. Consumers are smart enough to figure this out. Disagreeing with consumers about which products “want to be free” is, in the words of my junior high football coach, “like pissing up a rope.” In other words, it is not recommended.
Walter Isaacson has been out flogging his Time magazine cover story, “How To Save Your Newspaper.” Last night he was on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’m not sure which made me feel more tired–reading his article or watching him as he offered a poorly thought-out “solution” on televison. His big idea, which boils down to micropayments in exchange for content, betrays a profound ignorance of how people use the internet to consume news in the 21st century. Of course, this should not surprise us, as the story was commissioned by a news weekly, which, in an age of instantaneous information, may be the only form of media more archaic than a daily newspaper.
How to save your newspaper is the wrong question. The very idea of a newspaper is, for all practical purposes already dead. The right question is where will quality reporting come from in the post-newspaper (and post-television) news eras? I’m not sure we know the answer yet, and it’s a damned important question, since an energetic and meddlesome press is absolutely critical to the health of any democracy. I have no doubt that maverick reporters will continue to break an important story now and then. But when we take away the business model that has historically supported news-gathering operations, will what passes for news in America be dumbed down even more than it already has been? Will the number of reporters who can afford to spend months in pursuit of a single, complex story dwindle to a handful?
The question the news industry must answer is how will it monetize “free”? It is the same question that Chris Anderson of Wired has identified as central to the new digital economy of abundance (as opposed to the analog economy of scarcity). And will there be such a thing (singular) as the news industry, or will it be fractured into thousands of pieces by the democratization of technology and the destruction of old business models?
For more on Mr. Isaacson and his regrettable ideas on the newspaper industry, visit Techdirt.