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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Publishers Need New Filters - And Friends

There has been much hand-wringing over the camp fire of late amongst the 'traditional' media concerning futile attempts to restrain publication of various 'stories' in the face of [trumpets sound] "The Blogosphere", as Charon QC has described.

Even after 15 years of public Internet development, we are still in the midst of a "fight over information flows and access to flows", as Clay Shirky put it. The traditional media are really bleating because we - their readers - have moved away from their cosy, "free-rider resistant", proprietary model of information distribution to a new "free-rider tolerant" model. A plunge in production costs and a diffusion of free self-publishing applications has meant that quality-filters no longer need to be applied at source. A glance at all media, from the nightly television schedules to books, to social networks, radio and daily newspapers prove that people will watch, read and listen to all sorts of crap. It's just a matter of enabling people to find the crap they want - creating new filters that work for creators and their audiences alike.

Unfortunately for the traditional media, the best of that territory is now occupied by others, and their only response has been to circle the wagons. While they stuck to the old trail and a broken business model, various facilitators began to understand and solve consumers' filtering problem - notably Google, whose CEO can now lecture the newspapers on their future, amongst others. The iPad has really opened up the "apps" channel as a whole new form of content. Facebook has recently struck another significant blow, and the semantic web is developing fast, while others continue to study the challenge of "information overload". The traditional media response to all this has been either to figure out a way to get us to collaborate exclusively on their proprietary platforms or erect a 'paywall' to charge directly for accessing their own content. Others have enlisted government support, with questionable results.

It's not over, of course. The digital era has only just begun. Newspapers, books, movies are not dead. Innovation doesn't kill anything. Everything co-exists. Electronic book readers, like the Kindle, are effectively new filters that still oblige you to pay for reading books and newspapers (and blogs). More and more information will be added at an exponentially increasing rate. Filters will continue to break and taste patterns will shift constantly. Many old niches remain, and finding new niches will take editorial and marketing skill, some of which still resides inside the traditional media wagons.

But they need to uncircle those wagons and start making friends.
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