For media, disruption is the new order

A couple of things I’ve come across have got me thinking about the media business — broadly speaking — and just how profound the changes it is undergoing really are. It’s easy to dismiss them as just some kids on MySpace or a bunch of yahoos posting their juvenilia on YouTube, but it is really much more than that. Not a magical transformation by any means, but more like a rapid evolution, and a turbulent one at that.

film camera.jpgOne of the pieces that got me thinking was Scott Karp’s post over at Publishing 2.0, which he calls The Great Media Schism. In a nutshell, he says, the media industry is “dividing itself into content creation on the one hand, and content aggregation and distribution on the other.” And he is exactly right. From newspapers to movies, media titans are grappling with the fact that content and distribution no longer go hand in glove — and just because you used to control one doesn’t mean you still do, or will. “Content creation is no longer an easily scalable business,” he says. “In fact, many players in the new content creation game are not in it to build scale business, or even to make money at all.”

For some reason, that statement reminds me of the success of, which has become an accidental business in a sense — a service that Craig Newmark decided to start because it seemed like a good idea, and people adopted, and which has become wildly profitable almost by accident. All of which makes the damage it has done to the newspaper classified business seem even more of an insult, since Craig didn’t even mean to do it.

The other piece that got me thinking was a story in the Los Angeles Times by author Neal Gabler called The Movie Magic is Gone. Gabler describes — in a piece not-so-coincidentally published at Oscar time — how the traditional movie industry is in decline, in part because:

“To the extent that the Internet is a niche machine, dividing its users into tiny, self-defined categories, it is providing a challenge to the movies that not even television did, because the Internet addresses a change in consciousness while television simply addressed a change in delivery of content.”

The reality is that the Internet is unbundling the movie industry in the same way it is unbundling the newspaper industry and the music industry — dismantling or disrupting the traditional power relationships, in part by separating content from distribution. As Gabler puts it: “Much of modern media is dedicated to empowering audiences that no longer want to be passive.” And even when they do want to be passive, traditional content sources are finding a whole lot more competition for those eyeballs.

Further reading:

Ashkan Karbasfrooshan of HipMojo has some thoughts about the future of video, distribution and scalability. And please see the comment below from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.

10 thoughts on “For media, disruption is the new order

  1. I don’t think I agree with you and Scott on the schism point, Mathew – I left a comment on this on Scott’s blog.

    And I also don’t think it’s right to say that content creation is no longer an easily scalable business. First, when was it ever? It’s a creative, time and materials enterprise. Aggregation / distribution scales – it’s technology – and now it scales even better, because the technology transcends geography and is now cheaper by orders of magnitude – it’s scalier, if you will.

    But if content can scale, surely that time is now. It may be 10,000 monkeys on typewriters (many happy to do it for free), but if everyone is a content producer, and the distribution tools are free or near-free (WordPress, hosting account, ISP account), well, that seems like something like scaleability to me. And maybe we don’t need aggregation and distribution by anyone else because we are easily findable and we can distribute ourselves.

    Indeed, it may be that Scott has it exactly wrong on the schism, at least for some media. With WordPress, a hosting account and broadband I’m a content provider and a distributor. So with one technological leap, I and 9,999 other monkeys have been turned into content producers and distributors – we’ve been ‘un-schism-ed’, if you will.

  2. I see your point, Rob — and I think you are right that micro-publishers (thanks to WordPress etc.) can be both creator and distributor. But that means WordPress scales, not you the content creator, so I think it’s a slightly different business than “traditional” media — since you don’t “work” for WordPress.

    But I would agree that the disruption we’re seeing does allow micro-content to scale pretty easily, although at some point there does have to be an aggregator of some kind, even if it’s just Technorati or Techmeme.

    In any case, I think we agree more than we disagree.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Craig. And I did notice those comments from Jim about how the business impact has been overstated — I guess for newspapers it’s always nice to have someone else to blame for the ways in which your business isn’t going well 🙂

  4. Mathew,

    Great post. There are definitely major changes in store. One of the biggest coming changes is the importantce of content creators learnign to be distributers, too. Everyone has distribution available to them — all they need is a web site — and if they don’t advantage of it, they will get lost in the flood. I’m expecting a lot of niche distributors in the coming years, instead of massive broadcasters. Big business will no longer just be big business — but lots of little businesses (in the long-tail spirit).

    It’s a pretty exciting time.

    – Maureen

  5. There’s a book I’ve been meaning to review for some time: Stage To Studio, which documents the rise of the recording industry.

    Basically, ever since the printing press, technology has allowed mass production and therefore commodification of people’s thoughts for knowledge or entertainment – essentially creating the “media” we know today. However, the tools of this production have been kept in the hands of few, or corporations, as it’s always been cost prohibitive to scale up to mass entertainment levels. A recording artist was forced to deal with the record labels since they had access to all the record stores and the recording studios.

    Now this is obviously changing. And it’s affecting music, movies, television, video, and obviously print, too.

    I’d go so far as to say while web 2.0 has so far been about websites springing up that allow people to share content (social news, YouTube), web 3.0 is going to allow the average folks to build social, dynamic websites themselves (Pipes, Ning), or even applications. Wouldn’t it be awesome if anybody could be a programmer?

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