The Perfect Storm?

Having worked in the interweb super-highway for nearly 8 years now, I feel I am quite well placed in observing people’s attitude towards it. Starting with genuine intrigue and confusion early on, even stretching to genuine disbelief that this format will be anything to concern ourselves with, to an almost manic rush to virtualise every offline process and wanting to experiment with all the new shiny toys the web has given us. This has not been a straight upward curve, every so often the hype hasn’t quite lived up to the reality and after these false dawns we all happily got back to the day job, glad that we don’t have to deal with the quandaries that the web seems to throw up so deliciously.

Yet more recently I have felt as if a storm is brewing, there are many paradoxes of how the web will affect the systems and structures we know so well. Newspapers are in an ever decreasing slump concerning print sales, the Music industry seems to be running headlong into the arms of the grim reaper. Fast. And many other content business are trying to figure out a way of not making the same mistakes.

The thing I think some people seem to get wrong, is that there is some sort of fight to the death between old media and numejia that one must win. I think the problem though is that new media isn’t up for a fight, it doesn’t want to fight, it’s much more concerned with doing what is does well;

* Disaggregation – content reduced to the micro-format, individual components – photo, song, article, chapter, web link, tv clips.

* Aggregation – platform(s) to view micro-formats, these are the winners – google, yahoo, facebook, flickr all using human/computer filtering to serve relevant content back to user

* Content creation – new tools enable anyone to create content at ‘professional’ levels, Adobe, Apple, Internet applications, MS Word.

* Content distribution – the internet, social-networking, algorithms, RELEVANT advertising

* Business structures – new technologies and applications enable relatively small groups of people to run large operations (Craigslist?). Income doesn’t need to be that big to support such groups (even reenumerate them handsomely)

So to sum up, less people, money and effort is required to sustain a content business that is several (hundred) times the size and breadth of anything seen in human history. All this spells out a massive change in the way companies have operated for over 200 years, top down, pre-packaged, advertised, distributed, and sold to the consumer.

Content will still exist, the music business may be in trouble, but music is not, nor is video, nor are photos, nor is writing. It’s just the structures that support these huge operations might not fare so well. It’s interesting that two of the businesses that have fared pretty well in the last few years, the BBC and the Guardian don’t have to worry too much about where the cash is going to come from.

Another problem, as I see it, is that there is just simply no way certain companies are going to be able to sustain their profits or bloated corporate structures. In many cases companies will club together and pool resources but the elephant in the room is the fact that ever increasing profits just look impossible to sustain. I am amazed that they have held off for so long. At somepoint the people propping up these companies, be they content creators or advertisers are simply going to migrate where most people are and use free tools to do so. A recent report suggests that the Internet has overtaken T.V for the crown that is media consumption, this means that we are spending 1/10th of media budgets on a medium that attracts half our media consumption.

I don’t believe in the idea that old media has no place in the new world order, but in some instances they have to stop this rhetoric insisting that their quality and experience will win through. I believe in many cases this is true, the problem is that many are still not in the game so that we can see the quality and experience for ourselves. Apple UK has just allowed us to download programs from the iTunes store, it’s a start, but it’s allowed a massive head-start for content generators that have used the web very effectively.

Oh and just saw this

“TV programmes such as Heroes will not be available on iTunes after US broadcaster NBC ends a deal with Apple.”

Yey, great going!

The difficult issue for many companies is that certain practices will be unsustainable. I don’t like to assume what those will be, but in the next few years I think it will become quite apparent. We have seen a massive adjustment in the way we consume media, it follows that the structures that previously created that content, packaged and delivered it to us are going to change in a very big way (especially as the web packages and distributes rather well). I don’t like predictions but 2008 is going to be very interesting.

However on a final point, ‘old media publishers’ have deep pockets. When they do finally come crashing onto the net in a big way (and some already are) their cash can be used in very innovative ways, especially if that cash is put into scalable, dynamic infrastructures. Outside or inside the companies.

I still reckon 2008 is going to be a big big year.

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