Sometimes I’m even impressed by how fast things are changing and happening in the the new media world so many of us live, work and play in. A group of stories have appeared recently that I haven’t known what to do with on their own but which, when put together, provide a narrative of what we’re now dealing with.
Let’s start at the Blog Herald, where Tony Hung weighs in with his thoughts on the “death of FrontPage as a publishing tool” meme that’s been floating around. I think Hung is right in that blogging software hasn’t exactly been the nail in the coffin, it certainly provided most of the nails that went there. Free online tools that allow for site creation with AJAX or other easy to use technologies mean the ability to create a really sharp site is no longer solely in the hands and heads of programmers and other techies. Anyone can. For a now-deleted blog I used to write for I raised a similar point, saying that more and more mainstream pubs would find that blogging software, with a little design tweaking, would do the lion’s share of what their current web architecture does now. Eventually the line between “blog” and “site” will blur so as to be virtually indistinguishable.
Speaking of tools, the Seattle Times‘ Charles Bermant points to how what’s changing isn’t so much what we’re saying so much as how it’s being received. While Bermant is specifically talking about the convergence of e-mail and phone systems, the larger point is applicable to anything really. I choose not to receive Chicago Tribune content via print publication (except on Sundays) but I do get that content delivered via RSS. Did the message change? No. I chose from a variety of distribution methods until I found the one that works best for me. The same sorts of decisions are being made all over the place and are affecting and sometimes disrupting established business models. But, as Thomas Jefferson said, a little revolution now and then is a healthy thing.
As Steve Bryant says, though, it’s not just enough to allow my to view your media. Unless I can reuse it it’s really not of value to me. Bryant is advocating – or at least foreseeing – a future where all content is mashable, where the community can create as many versions as the market can bear, with the best ones rising to the top and revenue being shared with the original artist. That’s certainly a possibility, but right now it’s just important that content creators realize that it’s important, as I mentioned a while ago, to let people share media on their own terms. That goes for nice, clear permalinks, embeddable video and more. If I can share something on my blog I’m much more likely to pass it along to my readers. And because it doesn’t involve the reader clicking away from where they already are it’s more likely they’ll view it and continue on with what they were doing instead of bypassing it because they don’t want to go back and forth. That can be something as difficult as creating tricked-out press rooms for all shapes and sizes or as simple as adding social-networking tools to stories like The New York Times recently has.
Allowing media to go where the people are is vitally important because, as Stefanie Olsen at CNET says, media consumption is a full-time job for the teenagers and young adults marketers are always trying to reach. This group is always online, listening to music, watching video (be it TV, movies or other) and are also producing their own. They are growing up accustomed to being always connected and always out there for the world to see. These are the people whose purchasing power is lowering the cost of technologies previously reserved for the hallowed few, something that’s lowering the barrier of entry to publishing, which further drives down costs and so on and so forth.
Of course not everything that they publish and not every consumer-generated version of a song will be popular, regardless of its artistic qualities. “Long Tail” author Chris Anderson reminds us that not everything that’s a hit is good and not everything that is good becomes a hit. There’s a lot of factors that pull consumers into or against a crowd mentality. We are a “niche culture” and the ability to find our niche and communicate with others who are there is very powerful. When there are so many products that are available at little to no cost – largely because of the low cost of production and distribution – it doesn’t matter what’s a financial hit or not. What matters is whether that product hit the right group at the right time.
But the mechanism to bring the product to the consumer needs to be in place and be easy to use. That’s why I don’t read too much into the news that consumers still prefer renting DVDs to downloading movies. For all the advances that have been made in the last six months in this space, downloading and watching a movie is still not as convenient as renting the disc. Right now DVD players are ubiquitous in the personal electronics space but they weren’t three years ago. You can get a portable player for $90, you get one when you buy a laptop, you can get one that comes in the same box as a TV set. When downloading a movie is as easy to do as getting a movie from Netflix – and is free of all sorts of “you have to start watching it in six hours and you can’t watch it on Thursday afternoon” type restrictions then we’ll watch this space take off.
But which movies will we be downloading? Because of the aforementioned lowered entry barriers the role of the professional critic is increasingly being called into question. Right now the trust factor for a great many people is higher with citizen journalists who they’ve found whose opinions they agree with and perspectives they respect. Unlike the high-falutin’ critic, who descends from the Great Ivory Mount of Journalism to deliver “The Review,” bloggers and other online media are seen as ordinary people who pay for movies, have kids to arrange baby-sitting for and other relatable issues. In fact, the only time critics seem to be relevant anymore is when they decide to start handing out year-end awards. Yes, there’s still a lot of progress to be made before online media folks get some official respect. But most of this fanboy-ish behavior comes from the fact that these self-publishers are fans. They’re people who are genuinely excited about movies. That’s a good thing when it comes to what they write but can hamper their relations with studios and stars accustomed to the “civilized” behavior of the professional press. The problem, of course, is that the professional press simply isn’t meeting many of the needs of today’s media consumers. So companies are just fine talking to members of a media that’s increasingly irrelevant but is freezing out members of a media that is growing in popularity, reach and trust. That should be interesting to watch.
Knowing how respond to all levels of professionalism in the media is important because, as Mack Collier states, social media has killed the idea of there ever being an “isolated incident.” That convenient corporate excuse has been done away because of the ease of publishing a gripe about a product or service. That gripe will be indexed by the search engines, archived, and eventually found by others who thought they were the only ones having that problem. The good news is that this example also works for positive experiences, with people sharing how well they’ve been treated or their genuine enthusiasm for this, that or the other thing.
This is a very long way of saying that the media rules have changed for everyone. It’s important that we look around and assess what the new rules are everyone now and again and not only make sure we’re playing the game right, but that we’re playing the right game in the first place.