Seven stages of grief

About once a year I decide to have my little rant about big publishers/ old media and their attitude towards the internetwebs. Although looking back through the arguments, the tone has changed somewhat over the years. And it’s this change of tone that is interesting, and I reckon it’s following the classic 5 stages of grief theory. Although if that’s the case then we have a loooooong time before we can all just get along. So starting with the concept that the old way was doomed the moment Tim Berners-Lee thought ‘hey what about linking all this shit together’ and then metaphorical nails in the coffin from Google, YouTube, Craigslist, blogging, flickr, downloading, itunes…etc…etc…etc…etc.

The stages of grief are defined as:

1. Denial – I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
2. Anger – Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
3. Bargaining - “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”;
4. Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die . . . What’s the point?”;
5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”

So then stage 1, Denial. Most defiantly  true, many publishers at first just thought it was something for the geeks by the geeks and would ‘just blow over’ (I heard this statement personally several times). Google was interesting, Blogs were interesting, Google Ads were interesting, but never a match for traditional advertising (I was also sat in a meeting in 2004 where shock, disbelief and more than a little pity and amusement was displayed when suggesting Google Ad income would eventually overtake TV – it did, last year). But beyond that it was just a plaything, a geek/nerd thing, a game, nothing consequential compared to the high falutin’ newspapers, books, film and cds. For years traditional publishers played out the Knut role, to them they were simply attempting to dismiss this troublesome wave, enforcing why their business models deserved to survive, we are the ‘gate-keepers of quality’ they said, the internet is full of commentary and lies and noise. Yet at the same time pumping out the same old formats irrespective of price, need, and the change of attitudes towards content. Simply put they didn’t listen to the people that were buying the material, they were so sure of the business and content models no debate was necessary. On the web however people started creating the systems, filters and content that they wanted as well as circumventing the controls that the big publishers forced on a market in flux.

Stage 2, Anger, this is certainly here in reams, it’s not fair, why should we give away content, the aggregators steal our information, people steal our content and IP, you can’t make money online, give us time, we need to protect our current business model, we deserve to survive, democracy will die if newspapers go – just some of the screaming at the moon statements trotted out when organisations are in-able to innovate and take advantage of this brilliant new system.

Stage 3, Bargaining, I don’t think we are quite there yet, although much of stage two traits could be seen as bargaining, but some of the bargaining is so one-sided it doesn’t seem much of a deal. Sure we could look at newspaper websites, iplayer, itunes store as examples where certain segments of the old big publishers are starting to bargain with us – offering the formats and delivery mechanisms we want. And others wish/plead for more time to sort out the transition, and this is all great, but not all people deal with grief in the same way and I think anger is going to rage for a while in lots of sectors.

So after that, Stage 4 Depression, it’s sure to hit hard as some industries find themselves left behind and use what little influence they still have to bemoan the new system, how unfair it all is and how things were in the good ‘ol days.

So I that means the next stages to expect are bargaining, depression and eventually Stage 5 Acceptance  – these are all likely to happen in parallel – the companies that fail to innovate quick enough will die or be sidelined or just wither, this will lead to more anger and depression as people try to figure out what went wrong and find themselves in the cold. Others will innovate and work with the new paradigms, change their processes and LISTEN to their customers, and god forbid, even talk back to them openly and honestly, leading to better products and more efficient processes. These new models based on interaction, iteration and evolving business models that fit needs rather than reject change and sustain the current/past. Now when I say acceptance I don’t mean that everything is free and the web turns into one big 4chan (however lol that would be), but that older orgs work with, not against the system, creating new business models and process that fit. Now that’s something to hope for.

One final note, that I accept totally, none of this is easy or painless and certainly it leads to changes – some of which are unpleasant i.e. job losses . However doing nothing is not an option, the web is here to stay.

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