Digital media has failed to deliver on its promise. We have worked so hard to create a “new media” industry, but we failed to realize that we simply digitized an old media model. For the most part the digital media industry has not been very innovative, not at its core. Yes, some of the peripheral aspects have been creative, but those innovations sit on top of a model that is a pure rip-off of a century old model - a model that won’t stand the test of time.
This reality struck me especially hard over the last week. I met up with a few more than usual number of friends and colleagues in the media industry, and it’s been a while since I have felt part of the industry (this comes from a decision that I made a couple of years ago). Now, as I meet up with them, it’s as if I’m seeing the industry with a new set of eyes.
All the insiders are doing what they have been doing all along, dealing with the ups and downs of the industry. Some are happy to see investment in their organization, others are dreading the amount of destruction that has happened and wondering how much more is yet to come. Others, are simply dealing with another cycle, another down slope in the rollercoaster that is media. It’s as if they’re stuck on an endless ride that loops and will never lead anywhere. That is except for the brutal ejections that happen so frequently that they have become part of what is acceptable.
Those of you who are not in media might have a tough time understanding what the media industry is. It’s probably not what you think it is. For the most part it has little to do with content. It’s about advertising. Well, the selling of adverting. Then you have all the support organizations that help make that happen, the audience measurement, sales organizations and technology companies. It’s a highly integrated industry. The digital part of the industry, the one I’m most familiar with, modeled itself on the traditional offline industries of print, television and radio, so it’s not much of a surprise that things are as they are.
So what does this all mean? That’s the 64 thousand dollar question. To me, it means that as the fundamentals of what works changes, the models based on those fundamentals will fail. And, whether the model is analogue or digital if it is based on a principle that is no longer true, then it will fail.
The fundamental principle of media has been the aggregation of audience and the selling of access to that audience to advertisers. That worked when there were huge barriers to entry in media. When only the few had the power to publish or broadcast. That has all changed, and yet we cling to the model.
Today, anyone can publish something. In fact, individuals publish billions of times more than the media does. That will continue to make traditional media less important and therefore reduce their ability to profit from their exclusive powers of reach. I’m not the first to point this out, but its impact is lost on most of us, especially, those inside the machine. I hate to see what will be the horrible impact on the people in the industry that I played a small role in building.
I don’t know the solution. I’m working on what I think is a model that will evolve to replace media, but that’s not going to solve this problem. The problem being, we created an industry on a failing model and all those involved are going to end up paying for it.