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Behind the Failure of Old Media: 2

July 31, 2011 4 comments

In the first part of this series, I had written about how the lack of differentiating quality content and obsolete businesses models have contributed to the ongoing failure of old media. In both cases technology has destroyed what were once strong advantages of scale, in favor of new and smaller entities. Here is more..

3. Interactivity or the lack thereof

Old media had a top down model where a few ‘chosen ones’ told others what to think, read, listen, view etc. In the pre-internet age, writing letters to a newspaper or magazine was pretty much the only way for readers to interact with media. Such feedback was rarely published or even read other than as amusement for the ‘chosen ones’ and their flunkies.

Naturally, the only real feedback that most media was through sale figures which, though indicative of large trends, were often misleading due to the lack of true competition. Ask yourself, how many large newspapers, magazines etc can any given market support? In most cases there were 2-4 major and stable contenders in every area and field. In many respects, the situation was closer to an oligarchy. Relaxation of rules to prevent media consolidation, starting in the 1980s, made the situation worse by consolidating corporate influence and making media bland/safe enough to be produced like a widget.

The non-technological reasons behind the lack of interactivity in traditional media are also worth mentioning. Since old media was always a top down exercise in control via providing the ‘right’ information and content, attempts to add interactivity to any form of traditional media have always been half-hearted. It was always about intellectual coercion rather than a free exchange of ideas.

Now compare that state of affairs to blogs, forums, new media sites and social media.

4. Lack of Customization

One of the major strengths of new media is that its consumption can be customized to a hitherto unimaginable degree. You can not only select what you read or see but also what you want to know about and to what degree. Tools like RSS, Google recommendations, Reddit, StumbleUpon, FaceBook and Twitter links, blogs, Links within comments etc allow the average user to read and see what they are interested in rather than what they can buy or access in physical form.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones are the tools for this new form of customized media consumption. I recognized this eventuality after purchasing my first pocket PC in 2001. Though it initially lacked WiFi and ran on Windows Mobile, I found that it became a very important secondary device to my laptop as far as information storage, access and retrieval was concerned. Once I bought a CF-card WiFi modem for it, 2002, it became almost as important as my laptop for those purposes.

Given that people now see all of media as a repository which they can access at their pleasure and will, anything that cuts into this seamless experience (old media empires) will not be popular. Once again a ‘feature’ of the old business model and ways has today became a fatal flaw.

Other reasons for the failure of old media, including their counterproductive response to new media will be discussed in a future post of this series.

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