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Guest

What’s Next for Media Democratization?

By: Guest | December 20, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is by Paul Mayze.

The Gutenberg Press changed everything.

(Stick with me here…)

Before its invention, only the extremely wealthy could afford scribes to record the written word for them.

Suddenly, the written word was available to a much greater portion of the population.

There was an explosion of ideas.

Pamphleteers could write their thoughts, get them printed, and share them with the world.

Media was democratized.

And then, over time, pamphlets became newspapers, and companies bought those newspapers and other companies bought those companies, and…well, eventually we got the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch.

The Internet Changed Everything

(You can probably see where I’m going with this…)

Before its invention, only the extremely wealthy could afford to print, promote, and distribute their own newspapers. Suddenly, sharing the written word was available to a much greater portion of the population. There was an explosion of ideas. Bloggers could write their thoughts, publish them online, and share them with the world.

Media was modernized. And democratized.

Again.

The More Things Change…

As bloggers, we are used to the idea that we’re using a democratic platform accessible to just about anyone. We feel we have moved away from media ownership. I just wonder whether we are in danger of forgetting our ancestors have been here before.

We are already media owners of a sort. We own our blogs. We set the agenda and make editorial decisions. We determine which comments get published (if any), and reserve the right to pull the plug on the enterprise whenever we so choose.

In addition, thousands of the highest profile blogs we read every day are being incorporated into large media corporations, much the way smaller traditional media outlets were bought up and amalgamated in the past.

And while these corporations offer better distribution, promotion, and greater revenues from advertising, even with the best of intentions, corporate agendas do influence publishers, and that’s not ideal for either writers or readers.

Now What?

So recently I’ve found myself obsessing over a single idea: What happens next?

My feeling is we will see the vast majority of readers consuming blogs that are owned directly or indirectly by new media empires. There will still be millions of independent blogs around, but each with very small circulations.

But it’s not what I want to see happen. I would like to see a more permanent democratization of media. I’m not sure what form that should take, but I am working with a team right now who are trying to figure it out (you can follow our efforts at Howwwl).

What do you think should happen next? Is there an alternative future to blog aggregation, or are new media corporations simply fulfilling a critical role in audience and revenue generation – just like they did with print? I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.

Additional Note: Between print and the Internet there were, of course, other supposed ‘democratizing technologies,’ most notably the radio. If you’re interested in the topic, Tim Wu’s award-winning ‘The Master Switch’ is well worth a read.

Paul Mayze is co-founder of Howwwl.com, the new publishing and content discovery network. He was formerly COO of online game developer Monumental Games and has a background in technology communications. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

19 comments
rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

It's the same as it ever was, just different distribution methods. Audience and clout come at a cost. Ask any musician who gets accused of "selling out" as soon as they get a popular hit. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

Hi @pmayze , always enjoy meeting another Gutenberg Press fan, and if you start quoting from the Canterbury Tales, watch out! ;) One question for you: If history does indeed repeat itself, how do you think content creators should be changing up their strategies as the big boys start to snap up some of the others? How do we continue to draw eyeballs to content that doesn't have a huge media machine - with all that money and reach - behind it? 

ThePaulSutton
ThePaulSutton

I'd never really thought of things this way until we spoke, Paul. But reading this piece it seems almost inevitable that the successful blogs will be incorporated within 'media empires'. I'm not sure what form that takes exactly or what the implications of that would be for the independent guys (or the content of the blogs that become owned), but it could be that @ginidietrich does become a gazillionaire soon by selling 'ownership' of SpinSucks to a new media corporation of one type or another. I've always liked you Gini... :)

 

Are platforms like Howwwl the answer? I don't know that either, but I really like what you're doing and think there's a real future for community-based platforms organised around content streams.

 

[Full disclosure: I've recently been working with Paul and the team at Howwwl]

Jensenborger6
Jensenborger6

Thanks for these thoughts. I agree--the winner is usually the giant with the big advertising budget. Yet so much of my creative fodder comes from the little guys who are out there experimenting. I'd like to believe there is a place for people who want to build a quirky little niche for themselves. The one thing that we have now that we didn't in Gutenberg's day is a much longer potential reach. We can put things out to the world...if only the world knew how to find it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

I really hope someone buys Spin Sucks for a gazillion dollars. Ha! You have me thinking, though. I've been thinking about this since I got a sneak peak at it yesterday. It definitely has me thinking differently about our own content strategy.

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

No one says we have to sell out to the big boys. But we always do, don't we? For example, what if you all figure it out and AOL comes by with $40 million because their Patch model isn't as good? Will you say no thanks? It's one thing, as Ken says, to include the readers and viewers in the process. But that only goes so far if they don't control the revenue stream. 

 

Aggregation means reach and influence, which can change things. That's the allure--the ability to make a difference. But that takes cash, and cash usually comes with a price. It is a rare media empire that pushes an inclusive, democratic agenda or that looks out for the best interests of its readers/viewers when it's the shareholders that control the money. 

 

OK, optimists! Talk me down! 

KenMueller
KenMueller

Well, @ginidietrich  was right. She told me I would love this post. This is the kind of thing I studied and wrote about in grad school and am currently writing about for a side project with the MIT Media Lab. I'm spending a lot of time focusing on how traditional media outlets are adapting (very slowly) to new media, and including some of the democratization within the process. I think the successful media outlets (media corporations) will only be truly successful when they understand the need to include their readers/viewers in the process. It's already happening, but will continue to evolve.

 

Great stuff, Paul, and something to think about. 

pmayze
pmayze

 @belllindsay Don't get me started on the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is my homie. 

 

I wish I had a good solution (that didn't involve self-promotion, which I'll resist) - but I guess in the past we've seen Building Societies form in response to the power of Banks, and Co-Operatives form in response to the power of retailers. So maybe what happens is that independent blogs club together to find ways to compete with the 'the big boys'.

 

I like the thought of that. Especially around Christmas time, it's quite Frank Capra.

pmayze
pmayze

 @Jensenborger6 Ay, there's the rub (I just quoted Shakespeare! Gold star for me!)

 

'...if only the world knew how to find it.' That's where the big advertising budget comes in. I think that's why when blogs first started to blossom we got so excited about things being different this time. Because they weren't too hard to find, so the little guy could get a huge audience without big bucks.

 

Same thing happened in video games recently with the App Store. Everyone started saying it's a new era, with two guys in a bedroom making a fortune. And then everyone did it, the App Store got swamped, and now you need huge publishers to get noticed. 

 

Plus ca change...

 

(I just used French! Another gold star. I'm on fire right now!)

ThePaulSutton
ThePaulSutton

 @ginidietrich In what way, Gini? I know we chatted briefly about platforms like Howwwl and the trends in media consumption that Paul's covered here, but what specifically has got your brain whirring?

pmayze
pmayze

 @rustyspeidel Well I think you are already being quite the optimist in saying that the allure is the ability to make a difference. That's great to hear! Being honest, I'd find getting handed a bag of cash quite alluring, however much I like to be all 'Zen Habits' about this stuff :)

 

On a macro scale though, It feels like diversity and independence will end up in the hands of hobbyists. That's not necessarily a bad thing though - hobbyists have served us well before now. Just look at Wikipedia.

pmayze
pmayze

 @jasonkonopinski Cheers Jason! You carry on meeting those deadlines, quite happy to have the compliment just sit there ;)

pmayze
pmayze

 @KenMueller  @ginidietrich  'I think the successful media outlets (media corporations) will only be truly successful when they understand the need to include their readers/viewers in the process.'

 

Yup. While this still won't equate to democratisation it may be our best hope: readers holding media corporations responsible for being more inclusive. Because if the readers vote with their feet (um... eyes maybe) then shareholders will take note. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

 @pmayze Or we get offered boat loads of money and sell out! LOL Happy Christmas, Paul!