The Rise of Individuated Media
S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Syracuse, New York, U.S.A.
[An Adobe Acrobat (PDF) version of this paper is available at Individuated.Guru]
Author Note: Paper presented at the Rethinking Theories and Concepts of Mediated Communications conference, September 13-14, 2018, Barcelona, Spain.
This paper is a conceptual framework for comprehending how the shift in people’s access and choices in news, entertainment, and other information, changes people’s media consumption habits; thwarts many Mass Media business models and practices; and proposes that a shift is underway from the Mass Media of the Industrial Era and to the computer-mediated Individuated Media of the Informational Era. This epochal shift, resulting in most people having nearly instantaneous access in hand to more information than has before been printed or broadcast, is the greatest change in the history of media. It is already causing profound political, industrial, and societal effects and changes worldwide.
Keywords: Individuated Media, Mass Media, limitations of media, individuation of contents, mix of needs interests tastes, indivimedia
The Rise of Individuated Media
We live amid the greatest change in the history of media. People’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and other information has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus, or even overload. More than half of the world’s 7.6 billion people now own computer-mediated devices that can give them nearly instantaneous access to more information than has ever before been printed or broadcast. The speed of this shift has been unprecedented, affecting far more people worldwide far more quickly than did the inventions of the printing press, the broadcast transmitter, or any other past development in media. This shift is also among the most significant events in human history, already causing profound political, industrial, and societal effects and changes worldwide.
The epochal shift occurred over three or four decades, no more than a wink in human history, yet spanned more than a generation in the lives of people today. The shift occurred so quickly that most young adults have known nothing but surplus, yet occurred so slowly that most older adults are only beginning to perceive the magnitude and spectrum of effects it has already wrought, nonetheless those latent to be seen. The shift’s speed and sweep has caused a cognitive gap within the media industries between younger and older adults that is crippling those industries’ abilities to adapt to the new media environment the change has wrought.
Most young adults who staff media companies, and students who soon will, are natives to this new environment, but most of them still lack sufficient experience and perspective to formulate whatever doctrines, theories, and practices necessary to navigate this transformed environment. They look for those from the older adults who run media companies or who instruct media students.
Yet most of the older adults won their positions thanks to their hard-won expertise navigating a media environment which existed before this transformation; many, if not most, during the latter decades of the 20th Century. These old adult’s expertise is rooted in the waning years of the Industrial Era, when consumers had relatively scarce choices and access to news, entertainment, and other information: only a few or several terrestrial broadcast channels; only a few daily newspapers and perhaps one to two dozen weekly or monthly magazines in their language available on newsstands and kiosks; cinematic entertainment available mainly only at cinemas, books available only from bookstores or libraries, etc. A different era than now.
Moreover, the doctrines, theories, and practices at which they are expert were essentially defined by the media technologies of the Industrial Era: such as analog printing presses, analog waveform broadcast transmitters, and others media technologies that essentially predate computer-mediation. It was the capabilities and the limitations of those analog technologies that essentially defined the doctrines, theories, and practices that are collectively known as Mass Media, the hallmark mode of media during the Industrial Era. Decades of formative personal experiences during the era of relative scarcity, plus professional or advanced academic training in the doctrines that arose from then, have shaped most older adults who run media companies or who teach media students. These older adults had known no other mode of media except the Mass Media. Most might tend to assume that Mass Media are historically the ultimate possible forms of mediated communications. Many might overlook the inherent limitations of Mass Media communications as perhaps the inviolate or immutable boundaries of the media universe. Mass Media doctrines, theories, and practices are thus the filters through which they perceive and interpret everything in the media environment: whether a flutter of change in tabloid formats, the quaver of regulations in broadcast markets, or the seismic collapse of traditional Mass Media industries in developed countries amidst the greatest change in the history of media.
If proof of that exists, it is apparent in developed countries, where during the past half a generation most older adults who run media companies have inadvertently and demonstrably led their media industries towards obsolescence and possibly collapse. The proofs manifests there in steadily declining viewerships, listenerships, or readerships of Mass Media products (particularly when figures are adjusted for population growth). The proof is observable in how Mass Media companies’ equity prices have plunged and how their market capitalization has shrunk during the past dozen years. Proof is likewise also noticeable in the evaporating ranks of their traditional media companies’ employees, as staffing is constantly cut to match declining revenues. In most developed countries, the daily newspaper industries, which as few as 15 years ago had been among the most robust and valuable of many media corporations’ assets, touted by those corporations as ‘pioneering’ adaption to the new media environment, instead have been devastated. In the United States (U.S.), the newspaper sector of media has lost more than half of its annual revenues and daily circulations. Many of the approximately 1,250 daily newspapers in that country are now worth less as enterprises than the value of the real estate upon which they sit. Nearly as great drops of daily newspaper revenues and circulations have occurred in many Western European countries and Australia. The magazine and the commercial radio sector in developed countries have suffered similar drops. The recent divestiture by News Corp. of its cinema and U.S. commercial television network assets might be a harbinger of troubles in those media sectors, too. If there is a traditional media ‘convergence’, it is not in value.
The Myopia of a Waning Era
The penultimate cause of those declines is a pervasive misperception by most old adults who run media companies. They mistakenly believe that the greatest change underway in media during the past few decades is that consumers are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. In other words, these older adults mistakenly believe that people want to consume via computerized devices the same packages of news, entertainment, and other information that they had been consuming via printed publications or via terrestrial or cable broadcasting. They myopically misperceive that consumers have merely become ‘wired’ or ‘hooked up’; that the competing roles and products of traditional Mass Media sectors such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, etc., have become ‘converged’ through via computer-media delivery, thereby ‘disrupting’ those industries; and what all those traditional media industries need to do to survive and prosper is to deliver their traditional business models, their traditional content packaging, and their traditional contents (albeit with the addition of hyperlinks and embedded multimedia) into consumers’ personal computers, ‘smartphones’, and future computerized devices. Those old adults mistake superficial characteristics of the greatest change as the change itself, woefully underestimating the change’s nature and scope. This myopic misperception is seductive to those media executives who are blindered to the possibility that Mass Media aren’t the ultimate conceivable modes of media. This misperception has led them to formulate and implement what critics call ‘shovelware’ but proponents term ‘digital first’ strategies for adaptation to the new media environment. In developed countries, the implementation of these strategies during the past 20 years has inadvertently caused marked and demonstrable drops in consumers’ use of Mass Media products and declines in Mass Media companies’ revenues and market capitalization. For example, the U.S. newspaper industry has seen its annual revenues from printed editions drop from U.S. $60 billion to $29 billion during the past 16 years, yet revenues from its newspapers’ websites, which it has been publishing since 1996, have grown to only $3 billion during the past 20 years (and increased of merely $1 billion during the past 16 years) of mainly ‘digital first’ strategies. The results of these myopic strategies of underestimating the change underway, of mistaking its nature as simply a shift in media consumption from printed or broadcasting products and to simply online delivery of those same products, are media industry sectors facing collapse.
Although the core premise of those strategies is true, that billions of consumers are switching how they consume media content, changing from print or broadcast and to online, those billions of people aren’t doing so because they think that text content is easier to read, or that music is easier to listen, or that cinema or video is easier to watch on the screens of computers or smartphones. Nor is it necessarily the addition of hyperlinks and ‘converged’ multimedia. Much more than that is occurring that motivates a change in consumption by half the world’s population. To describe what, first examine the sheer magnitude of the shift from relative scarcity to surplus that began a little more than a generation ago.
Three Principles and Five Waves Interact
The exact timing of this great shift has varied per nation, depending upon each country’s economics, politics, and technological infrastructures. In general, however, the shift has occurred in approximately five ‘waves’ of change that altered the media environment, each of which is a direct result of the progress and practical usages of the computer integrated circuit ‘chip’ and the interactions of three observable and related dynamic principles or ‘laws’ arising from that technology:
(1) Moore’s Law observes that the number of transistors that can be miniaturized into an integrated circuit doubles about every two years, which means that the practical processing power of new computer chips doubles in each such period;
(2) Cooper’s Law (also known as the Law of Spectral Efficiency) observes that the practical communications-carrying capacity within the wireless electromagnetic spectrum doubles every 30 months; and
(3) Butters’ Law (also known as the ‘Law of Photonics’) observes that the practical carrying-capacity of fiber optics doubles every nine months.
The interactions of these three technological principles or ‘laws’ have been causing accelerating technological advances worldwide since some 60 years when computer chips began replacing manual or mechanical switching armatures and vacuum tubes in the technologies of wired and wireless telecommunications. The three ‘laws’ are interdependent because the capabilities of any computer are limited by those of its telecommunicative inputs and outputs; the capabilities of telecommunication are limited by those of the computers driving it. The progress of each of these three principles or ‘laws’ is thus dependent upon one another.
In the U.S., the five waves of change altered the media environment and shifted most people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and other information from relative scarcity to surplus. Each wave coincidentally occurred during different yet consecutive decades of the Gregorian calendar:
- The 1970s brought implementation of cable television, first in cities and then suburbs (followed decades later by satellite television nationwide). Consumers who used to have access to no more than between one and a dozen television channels gained access to dozens and then hundreds. (A recent Nielsen study reported that the average U.S. home now receives more than 180 television channels.) A notable characteristic of this, as well as the subsequent waves of change, was not only that it gave consumers more choices of general-interest channels but gave rise to topical channels: news, sports, cartoons, history, biography, science, comedy, nature & animals, fashion, science fiction, shopping, and so on. As the number of accessible channels increased, topical channels quickly outnumbered general-interest channels and sub-topical channels arose (rather all sports, a golf channel, a tennis channel, a motor racing channel, for examples.). If your hobby is to cook, you no longer had to wait for the weekend when an hour-long cooking show might be broadcast; you could instead watch cooking shows at any time of day.
- The 1980s brought advances in offset lithography which made publication of topical (‘niche’ contents) magazines economical. Newsstands and kiosks that 40 years ago offered 20 to 30 magazine titles now sell hundreds of titles, almost all of which are about specific topics rather than general-interest. A reader specifically interested in a specific topic (4WD Toyotas or Nordic cuisine or World War II history or Missouri vacations or bonsai gardening, etc.) now no longer had to wait for the occasional story about that topic in a newspaper or general-interest magazine.
- The 1990s brought Internet access to the public. More than 4 billion people worldwide have since gained access to nearly 1.9 billion websites, daily make 5.9 billion Google searches, and watch 6.5 billion YouTube videos. (These number don’t include searches on Yahoo!, Bing, Baidu, etc., or videos seen on other websites.) That 1.9 billion websites includes virtually all the worlds’ newspapers, magazines, trade journals, and other publications, plus than 15,000 radio and television channels that have been put online, plus nearly one billion blogs (433 million via Tumblr.com alone), plus social networks. Mass Media companies’ websites comprise a tiny fraction of 1.9 billion websites, almost all of which are about specific topics or individuals.
- The 2000’s wave brought broadband access to billions of consumers. Most homes and offices in developed countries gained nearly-instant, ‘always-on’ access to the news, entertainment, and other information that the previous three waves brought. This wave eliminated the need to monopolize a telephone line to access all news, entertainment, and other information. It also markedly changed how, and how frequently, consumers accessed their newfound cornucopia of contents. It also catalyzed the rise of video content online (even allowing consumers to distribute their own online). By 2017, more people in the U.S. had subscriptions to ‘online streaming’ services such as Netflix and Hulu than had cable television subscriptions. Online streaming had already become the predominant way in which consumers in China watch videos.
- The 2010s brought all that wirelessly into the palms of our hands, our vehicles, and even our appliances. Within two years of the 2008 introduction of the ‘smartphone’, nearly 300 million had been sold worldwide. That number had risen to a total of 1.4 billion by 2015, at which time the world’s mobile telephone handset manufacturers had begun producing nothing but smartphones. By 2017, smartphone access became the predominant way in which consumers access the Internet (and already accounted for nearly two-thirds of such access from Asia). Some 1.5 billion smartphones will be sold during 2018. The least expensive smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy J1, Techno L9, or Huawei Y3, available in developing countries nowadays cost the equivalent of U.S. $100 to $110 with ‘pay as you go’ carrier charges for telephony and data carrier costs, putting smartphone ownership in reach of many more consumers worldwide. Furthermore, several of the world’s major cinema studios have begun developing video entertainment specifically for smartphones, raising billions of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, most of the world’s major manufacturers of automobiles have begun building Internet access into vehicles (as already do most of the world’s major manufacturers of television sets). Major manufacturers of home appliances, such as Samsung, LG, and Siemens, now sell refrigerators capable of displaying streamed video from the Internet.
These waves of accelerating technological change transformed the media environment from what it had been during most of the 20th Century or even ten years ago. The changes have not been incremental, and have shattered many aspects of the media environment and media industries worldwide. To think that such radical changes would not alter the doctrines, theories, and practices of media, plus how media products are consumed, is illogical.
Ultimate Cause of Mass Media Decline
Evidence of how radically the shift from relative scarcity to surplus has changed consumer’s consumption of media can be seen in the following mid-2007 table of data from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) about usage of major daily newspaper websites in the U.S. (See Figure 1.) The NAA asked Nielsen/Netratings to compile usage data from that year during March through August, specifically about the monthly numbers of web pages exposed and ‘Unique Visitors’ received, and how often the average such visitor of each of those websites visits, how many webpages he sees, and how much time he spends on that website. Nielsen averaged the aggregate data from those six months to compensate for any seasonal or holiday variations. Most media executives and media scholars who have Mass Media backgrounds tend to focus on the monthly numbers of ‘Unique Visitors’ and of ‘Web Page Views’. Note that during the average of those six months, the website of The New York Times received nearly 19 million users to which it showed more than 370 million webpages, numbers that appear impressive.
However, what is striking to anyone interested in how media consumption has changed are the monthly ‘Web Pages Per Visitor’, ‘Visits Per Visitor’, and ‘Time Per Visitor’ numbers. The average user of The New York Times’s website visited it only 4.05 times per month; spent 20 minutes and 20 seconds there all month; and read 27 stories during those visits. (See Figure 1.) Visiting this daily newspaper’s website only 4.05 times per month is equivalent to visiting it about once per week. Spending a total of 20:20 there during those 4.05 visits equals approximately five minutes per visit. Reading 27 web pages during those 4.05 visits means the average visitor reads fewer than approximately seven web pages per visit. (27 / 4.05 = 6.66). If each web page contains one story, that means the average visitor saw fewer than seven stories per visit, though likely fewer than that if he also visited the website’s home page or sectional index pages during each of those visits.
[Although the NAA, which has since merged with six other U.S. newspaper associations to form the New Media Alliance, no longer publicly releases such data, private viewings of Nielsen and ComScore data by the author during visits to many of these U.S. newspapers confirm that although the monthly totals of ‘Unique User’ and ‘Web Page Views’ has greatly increased during the past 11 years since this table of data was released, the average monthly numbers of ‘Web Pages per Visitor’, ‘Visits Per Visitor, and ‘Time Per Visitor’, or equivalent data, has not markedly changed.]
This data shows radically different consumption online than in print. The average user of a printed edition of The New York Times probably spends ten to 20 minutes per day reading it, not a total of 20 minutes per month. The data from almost all the other major U.S. daily newspapers’ websites shows even less frequent and less deep usage. For example, Miami Herald: 2.09 visits, eight total minutes, only nine web pages seen per month.
Consider also how advertising exposure and advertising business models differ between online and in print or terrestrial broadcasts. When someone purchases an advertisement in a printed publication, the purchase price is based upon the net circulation of that publication, not upon how many actual readers turned to the page on which the advertisement was placed. When someone purchases an advertisement in a terrestrial broadcast, the purchase price is based upon an approximation of how many people could be listening or watching the broadcast at that time, not upon how many do. Yet because interactive technologies can detect the actual number of people to whom an online advertisement has been shown, the advertiser is charged per that number. If the average visitor to The New York Times’ website visits only 4.05 times per month, during which he sees only 27 web pages, that daily newspaper is only able to expose advertisements to him only 4.05 times per month, not daily, and only on 27 pages during that period. Because the consumption habits of people online are different than with the same contents in printed or terrestrially broadcast form, their less frequent and less deep usage online is one of the major reasons why publications’ or broadcasters’ advertising revenues online are much lower than in print or terrestrial broadcast.
During 2011, The New York Times began trying to convert as many as possible of its website’s users into paying online subscribers, and many other daily newspapers have followed its lead. Now, after seven of marketing, The New York Times has converted a total of 2.8 million of its websites’ claimed 78.1 million registered ‘Unique Users’ into paying online subscribers. That is a conversion rate of only 3.6%, and includes ‘Unique Users’ who subscribe not to full access but access only to the newspaper’s recipes or crossword puzzles. Most other daily newspapers in the U.S. (except for the financial publication The Wall Street Journal) have fared even worse. Most consumers don’t want to pay the U.S. $10 to $35 monthly that publishers are trying to charge for access to websites that those consumers use relatively infrequently (such as only 4.05 times per month) and thinly (fewer than seven web pages per visit). Readers of The New York Times’ printed edition, whose consumption habits are radically different, had no such qualms. Most will, at least, scan every page of the printed daily edition, yet nobody ever views every page of a newspaper’s website each day. People consume news, entertainment, and other information differently online than they do in in print, terrestrial broadcasts, or other forms of Mass Media.
Choosing Items from a Cornucopia of Contents
Imagine that all your life you’ve been fed the same institutional or standardized meal as everyone else was in your community that day. The meal might consist of an entrée, a vegetable, and a beverage, none of which were chosen by you but by a nutritionist who thought those items were those most people in the community would want or should eat. On some days, this meal might interest you; on other days, its mix of items does not. However, you now have an alternative: a gargantuan buffet of appetizers, entrées, vegetables, salads, fruits, breads, deserts, beverages, and myriad other items which you yourself can select. Given the choice between continuing to consume the same standardized meal as everyone else in the community or utilizing this huge buffet to select whichever items best match your own needs, interests, and tastes, what would you do? If you are like most people (the mass in the Industrial Era term Mass Media), you’ll likely stop consuming the standardized meal everyone else in the community gets and instead make your own choices from the buffet to which you now have access. That way, you will likely find a selection of items that would better match your own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes than the items in a standardized meal could.
What if when you walked into a grocery market, the store clerk stopped you from browsing in the grocery aisles and handed to you, and each other consumer who walked into that market, bags containing the same selection of grocery items, a selection of items which he thought that most people might want to or should eat? Would you continue to patronize that grocery market? Or would you instead patronize a grocery market that allows you to browse and select whatever mix of items best fits your individual mix of needs, interests, and tastes?
Those two hypothetical examples are akin to choices which most people in the world now have between continuing to consume general-interest Mass Media products or browsing and selecting items from their newfound online cornucopia of contents. Rather than continuing to consume general-interest publications and general-interest broadcasts, regardless of whether those contents are in print, terrestrially broadcast, or online, more and more consumers are abandoning consumption of general-interest selections of items and instead are obtaining from their newfound online cornucopia of contents their own selections of items, a mix that better matches their needs, interests, and tastes than the general-interest packages do.
Each consumer is uniquely individual. Most people permanently share few universal or common interests. During workshops that I hold at newspapers, I frequently asks editors to list permanent interests shared by everyone in the community they serve. Many editors reply ‘taxes’ or ‘local politics’, disqualified answers because those topics aren’t of interest to most children and teenagers in the community. ‘Hurricanes’, ‘earthquakes’, ‘tornadoes’, ‘floods’, and other natural disasters, plus ‘national elections’, are answers that partly qualify, although most are weather-related and incidental, not permanently sustaining interests for many people. The sole topic that all editor agreed is of permanent interest to everyone in their communities was the weather. That ultimately means that most stories in newspapers are not of interest to most people. However, many people do share some group interests, for examples fans of the actor George Clooney or of the Barcelona football club or of table tennis or of Harley Davidson motorcycles or of Malaysian cuisine, etc. Most people have several group interests, some of which they might hold permanently and some of which might vary over time. Yet the more specific a topic of group interests becomes, the fewer the number of people who share it. Each person might indeed have a myriad remarkably specific or individual interests about which nobody he has met or known shares: such as be a fan of an obscure author, have a particularly unusual hobby, be a collector of an unusual type of object, love a very specific type of cooked meal, etc. Each person is a unique mix of a few universal interests, some group interests, and very many specific interests. It is this unique mix that makes each person an individual. No two people have the same mix of interests.
Each person yearns to obtain products and services that can best satisfy his own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes. Chris Anderson’s 2006 book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More describes in detail how the proportions of universal, group, and specific interests can be calculated as a power curve graph. (See Figure 2.)
The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare. 
Anderson noted in his power curve graph that huge numbers of people share very few universal interests; that large numbers of people share some group interests; and that few people share any specific interest but there are huge numbers of specific interests. The astronomical numbers of specific interests would scroll off any reasonably-sized chart. (Hence the name ‘Long Tail’.) To media executives and media academicians trained in Mass Media, the Long Tail chart indicates that the most successful media businesses should be built to cater to the few universal interests or, at most, numbers of group interests. Those interests indeed have been the realm of Mass Media due to the limitations of Industrial Era technologies. However, Anderson and other observers have calculated that the greatest area delineated under this power curve is the specific interests, not the group or the universal interests. The bulk of Anderson’s Long Tail book describes companies that during the past 20 years have used computer-mediated technologies to exploit the voluminous area of specific interests and thereby deliver products that better match their customers’ own individual mixes of needs, interests, and tastes.
Among those companies is Amazon.com, whose founder, Jeff Bezos (now the richest person in the world), understood the power curve of people’s interest and formulated a business plan that ably utilizes it. He started with books. Bezos knew that most retail bookstores built can stock and sell the best-selling books and that some are large enough to stock and sell books about group interests. However, he understood that no retail bookstore built was large enough to stock and sell all the world’s books about specific topics; topics from which in aggregate his company could make the most revenues because that’s where most people’s interests lay. Bezos knew that no shelves in a physical store or kiosk could contain books in print about all topics, but he realized that creating a computer-mediated online interface to do so could. Along with that interface, he also established huge warehouses of books throughout the U.S. and began using postal mail or commercial delivery companies to deliver books about specific topics to individuals who wanted those, thus exploiting the ‘Long Tail’ effect. Now 24 years after its founding, his company, which today sells more than only books, has the second greatest market capitalization in the world and annual gross revenues (turnover) of more than $177 billion. Among startup companies in the U.S. that have exploited similarly plans are Pandora for music (81 million users, more than any U.S. radio station has), Flipboard for magazines (28 million users, more than any U.S. magazine has), etc. All these companies allow each customer to find a more precise mix of contents that match his needs, interests, and tastes, than he could obtain from Mass Media companies packaging contents focused primarily on universal and group, rather than specific, interest. The rapid successes of how these companies used the computer-mediated technologies of the Information Era to better serve masses of individuals, and thereby gain greater revenues, should be a warning to Mass Media competitors.
The Technological Limitations of Mass Media
Most of the doctrines, theories, and practices of Mass Media arose from the capabilities and the limitations of Industrial Era media production technologies. For examples, an analog printing press, whether the moveable-type version invented by Gutenberg or the modern rotary offset version used by The New York Times, can print a massive number of copies simultaneously, but each of those copies is identical. An analog waveform transmitter can reach massive numbers of people within its range (terrestrially or extended through cable systems), yet each of its listeners or viewers simultaneously receives the same program and an identical program schedule as every other. Industrial Era technologies are incapable of producing an individually-customized edition or program or program schedule to match each individual recipient’s own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes. In Mass Media, a team of editors at, for example, a daily newspaper selects stories to include in that day’s edition based upon two criteria: (a) which stories might have the most common demographic interest, and (b) which stories the editors think all recipients should be informed about. (In entertainment media, only the first criterion is generally used.) The resulting products and services generally are imperfect matches to each person’s own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes. Industrial Era media technologies have mass reach, but no practical means by which to customize contents for each user—a massive disadvantage in an Information Era when billons of consumers have gained access to a cornucopia of contents. The computer-mediated Individuated Media technologies of the Informational Era do provide mass reach with mass-customization.
When Mass Media executives nowadays complain that their audiences have become ‘fragmented’, they are complaining that their Mass audiences have declined because increasing numbers of those audience members are instead online finding and consuming (‘self-selecting’, as if from an informational buffet) whatever mix of stories, from all possible accessible vendors, best matches each individual’s own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes. Billions of people now do so. There are as many ‘fragments’ as there are individuals. During the past 20 or more years, the media industries and the media academia should have foreseen: that once people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and other information, shifted from relative scarcity to surplus, people’s media consumption habits would shift away from accepting standardized Mass Media packages of contents and towards each person seeking a more articulately individuated selections of content items which can better match his own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes; also that Mass Media’s standardized selections of items would become worth less as billions of people shifted their media consumptions this way; and that the aggregate sum of the items in Mass Media packages of contents might therefore become more valuable to people when unbundled than the sum of those items had been when packaged as printed editions or as broadcast program schedules (an example: Apple sells more songs as individual downloads than as download of the albums of those songs).
The method by which millions of those individuals first began individuating the mix of news, entertainment, and other information, they received each day was by self-selecting it during the late-1990s from massive amounts that they were beginning to gain access to online. They first used search engines to aid in the individuation of contents they received. Back in that decade of primarily dialup access, those millions of individuals might have first ventured online to read the contents of Mass Media publications, perhaps ones to which they didn’t subscribe or weren’t available in print in their location. However, it soon became apparent that they wanted more than the world’s Mass Media could provide. (Part of the reason might be because almost all Mass Media publishers and broadcaster during the years 1996 to approximately 2010 put online only those contents that they also printed or terrestrially broadcast. The number of stories that, for example, the newsroom of The New York Times receives dailies from its own reporters and news and feature agencies and syndicates numbers in the thousands, yet that newspaper’s printed edition can only economically fewer than one hundred per edition. In doing so, publisher and broadcasters failed to utilize the full capacity and capabilities of computer-mediated media technologies and inadvertently transplanted one of the limitations of Industrial Era media into Informational Era media.) By using search engines to find more specific sources of information about the group interests or specific interests for which they cared, consumers discovered even more specialized topical publications, bloggers who knew more about that group or specific than they did, and numerous other sources of that information than could the more generalized or general-interest publications and broadcasts by Mass Media could provide. These millions, and soon hundreds of millions and billions, of individuals’ use of search engines made the companies providing search technology, such as Google and Baidu, immensely rich (annual revenues of U.S. $110 billion and $12.5 billion respectively during 2017).
Billions of people found more efficient ways to individuate the mix of news, entertainment, and other information they obtained when during the early years of the new millennium companies such as MySpace, Facebook, Sina Weibo, Twitter, Reddit, VKontakte, and others providing services now colloquially known as ‘Social Media’, were launched. At the core of most social media companies’ is the concept known as ‘collaborative filtering’. It is based upon the hypothesis that if you have friends, then they are your friends because you and they happen to share together some or perhaps many interests. That means that you and your friends together can, as each of you searches online, find more items that match your unique mix of interests than you alone could have found. (That is your ‘society’ in Social Media.) Social Media companies such as Facebook have further augmented this by allowing publishers, broadcasters, schools, governments, and other organizations, each to create their own ‘page’ on a Social Media service so that each organization’s contents can be automatically added to any individual user’s ‘news feed’ simply by that user ‘Like’ing the organization as if it were yet another friend on that Social Media. The resulting feed of individuated contents that a Social Media user automatically receives each day is thus based upon his individual mix of friends and ‘Like’s. These services delivering individuated contents have become phenomenally popular. For example, as of the second quarter of 2018, only 14 years after its launch, Facebook had 2.23 billion Monthly Active Users (i.e., have logged-in during the past 30 days), 29% of the world’s population. There are 2.6 billion people currently use Social Media and predictions that 3 billion will be by 2021.
Other companies have launched services which provide individuated contents for only particularly forms of media. For examples, the U.S. company Pandora Radio, founded in 2000, has 81 million users. It lets each of them individuate streaming music so that the musical genres styles, and performers each listener hears fits that listener’s own mix of interests and tastes. By the end of 2013, Pandora accounted for 70% of all Internet radio streaming in the U.S. Among Pandora’s competitors is iHeartRadio, owned by the corporation that operates the largest number of terrestrial radio stations in the U.S. Like Pandora, iHeartRadio lets its 100 million users individuate the stream of music they receive. No terrestrial radio station in the U.S. has nearly as many regular listeners as do either of these two individuated streaming music services. The closest competitor to Pandora and iHeartRadio would be the Mass Media satellite radio station Sirius XM which has an aggregate total of 33 million users of its 151 channels.
Individuated Media Supersedes Mass Media
The phenomenally rapid popularity and growth of services that let individuals find the mix of news, entertainment, and other information, that best fits their own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes, or that automatically provide them with such feeds, has been unprecedented in not only the history of media but also the history of business. More than half of the world’s population now has access to such services and 58% of them (29% of the world’s population) have gravitated to these services. Moreover, most of that 58% are been people under the age 30, who will likely use such services, rather than legacy Mass Media, for the rest of their lives. Multiple surveys by reputable polling organizations have begun to report that individuated media services, whether search engines, Social Media, or others, are already the predominant means by which people under the age of 45 in developed countries obtain news and other information, rather than by the printed periodicals or terrestrial broadcasts of Mass Media. 
Is Facebook a media company? With 2.23 billion active users, it certainly has mass reach, and hundreds of millions, if not billions of its users rely upon it as their primary means of obtaining news and many forms of civic and societal information. Yet each of its 2.23 billion users will simultaneously see a different mix of content than any other of those users does, quite unlike with a Mass Media service. That’s why this author terms such services Individuated Media rather than Mass Media. Individuated Media products and services utilize (and are inherently dependent upon) computer-mediation to provide not only the mass reach of Mass Media but to provide the mass customization of information that Mass Media technologies cannot provide. As Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws and their interactions continue to accelerate and advance the pace of technological change worldwide, I believe that the effects will ineluctably accelerate the capabilities of Individuated Media services to provide even newer and more articulate matches to each person’s own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes. And it will conversely erode the fortunes and futures of Mass Media and its practices. Individuated Media is already superseding Mass Media as people’s predominant means of obtaining news, entertainment, and other information.
The ramifications of this great shift bear further study. As most people who have spent time in a bazaar, souk, or flea market know, whenever the supply of something changes from scarcity to surplus, more than just its pricing changes: things such as the purchasers’ attention spans, the power balances between buyers and sellers, the market dissonance as the shift occurs, etc. The Principle of Supply & Demand might be the ideal prism through which to examine further the entire spectrum of media changes underway.
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