nothing to fall back on


Anna Shteynshleyger

That axe is a good symbol for the following 3 quotes about 3 different fields that are really about the same thing – digital distribution of media and a new market model:

Free is not a business model. Free is how you smash old crappy monopolies and how you force businesses who don’t give a rats ass what their consumers want to pay attention. Free is how you get some momentum so you can prove there really are better more efficient ways of doing some things.

a photo editor

It happened first and most obviously in the music industry. From a discussion of filesharing leading to a new market model, with Radiohead, who was the first major label group to release a pay-what-you-wish album through the internet, as a case study:

“We realised that, by using the internet for the delivery of the album, we could reach 173 countries and it would cost us less than three cents a copy for distribution,” says Message. “We find ourselves out of step with the rest of the industry on this. We believe file-sharing by peer to peer should be legalised. The sharing of music where it is not for profit is a great thing for culture and music.”

The tour to support In Rainbows saw Radiohead perform to 60,000 people in San Francisco. While Message concedes that half of that audience may have downloaded the album for free, they all paid $60 for a ticket to see the band and “we get most of that money” says Message.

Message sees technologies like YouTube and peer-to-peer sharing as platforms to deepen the relationship between musician and fan. It is up to the artist then to make money out of that relationship whether it is through selling merchandise or performing live. “The artist has to be at the centre of everything and be willing to drive their own business,” says Message. “Getting signed to a label is not enough any more. It’s about partnerships now. This is entrepreneurship at its finest.”

Working in Harmony, Irish Times


Anna Shteynshleyger

But it applies most painfully to the print media:

The curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan: “Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?”

To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did.

The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Clay Shirky via Winkleman

Uncertain times. My first reaction, perhaps many people’s, is that it seems dangerous not to have a back up plan. But maybe having a safety net allows us to give less than 100%.

My mother said, “You have to have something to fall back on.” She hadn’t any confidence in this. (Many years later I heard myself saying to one of my daughters, “You have to have something to fall back on.” What a shock it was to hear myself say it!) I didn’t want anything to fall back on; I knew it was dangerous to have something to fall back on.

Dorothea Lange

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~ by Jin on May 5, 2009.

One Response to “nothing to fall back on”

  1. The Clay Shirky piece (third quote) is the best piece of writing on the current Print-News-Crisis. I encourage all to read it. Why did it take the closure of several large regional newspapers for us all to believe that old forms of press, print, monopoly, subscription, advertising were just now inefficient? Silicon valley has said it for 15 years.

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