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In the middle of the second decade of the Twenty First Century, it should be clear to all who work in the media industries that how people gravitate to and around contents has clearly changed now that they no longer have relatively scarce choices and access to news, entertainment, and other information. This change has radically reshaped and recolored the media environment. No media company—established, startup, or in between—will long survive if it doesn’t understand all the dynamics of that change.
One of the major dynamics is that the era when an editor, or even a group of editors, selected which items of contents all the people in the community would read, hear, or see, simply because that selection of contents was what they placed into an edition, a broadcast, a musical album, or some other traditional package of contents, is ending. The Industrial Era technological limitation that caused all consumers in a community to get the same package has ended.
Anyone who doesn’t yet understand that should consider the following analogy. Imagine that you and other people walk into a supermarket where, rather than each of you being allowed to select the exact mix of items from the supermarket aisles and shelves that you want, you and every other customer are instead handed sacks each containing exactly the same mix of items, a mix selected by the store manager and containing what he and his staff think are the most popular or nutritious items for everyone. Would you, as well as those other customers, continue to patronize such a supermarket or would you instead gravitate to a competing supermarket that lets you and every other customer each select whatever individual mix of items that you want? The Mass Media business model of the Industrial Era is the first supermarket, the Individuated Media business model of the Informational Era is its competitor. It is absurd to expect consumers to continue patronizing the former when the latter gives them the capability to make their own choices and obtain a mix of contents that more articulately matches each of the individual consumer’s own unique needs, interests, and tastes.
No editor or team of editors, from any one Mass Media company or even from a group of Mass media companies, can as articulately select contents for each individual’s unique mix needs, interests, and tastes, as can an Individuated Media service. That service might take the form of self-individuation via hunting and gathering items via search engines; it might take the form of group-individuation via friends with similar likes and interests finding and suggesting items; or it might take the form of more automated processes, such as systems that learn the individual’s needs, interests, and tastes, finds and suggest items, then further refines its learning, systems that are still nascent. Services designed for the new way that people gravitate to and around content are the green and fertile fields of opportunities for media companies and media investments.
This is also why ‘digital curation’ by a third-party individual online or ‘media curation’ by a media company online—both fad neologisms for having an another person take the place of an editor who selects the stories contained in an edition or program or website, isn’t a solution for Mass Media’s decline. It’s simply replaces one form of Mass Media with another; replacing one gear with another in a mechanism that is become obsolete.
In this Informational Era, media industries and their companies must offer individuatable contents to survive. That requires focusing on sales of the items rather than the traditional packages containing the items. It mandates encoding all items with comprehensive XML metadata and distributing those items beyond just the usual distribution syndicates, wire services, and traditionally-arranged means. And it certainly involves all those industries not only using variants of the same XML but also a universal Document Object Identifier system that ties each item to it rights and royalties, ideally coupled to a compensation system. If the industries and companies still devoted to producing the Mass Media of the Industrial Era are to alter themselves and survive, they will have to begin producing individuatable items of contents that are automatically distributed throughout the entire media environment to all the individuals who specifically want those items, rather than continue to producing packages of items to which these industries and companies still want all individuals to come. The flow has reversed.
No amount of media traditionalists hoping that things are changing these ways will stop these changes. No recasting of Mass Media business strategies will prevent these changes, which clearly are already occurring. Mass Media is no longer the predominant ways in which people obtain news, entertainment, and information. Billions of people already use Individuated Media as the predominant way. Media industries and media companies that continue to shovel into online the contents of their traditional Mass Media packages, even media companies that operate solely online (i.e., ‘pure play’) yet nonetheless there produce packages of items are simply versions of Mass Media packages, haven’t viable strategies for continued survival in this new era. Merely switching their contents from ‘analog’ to ‘digital,’ merely attempting ‘convergence’ of traditional Mass Media, merely believing that consumers are becoming ‘wired’ or ‘hooked-up’ or that being ‘digital first’ is the answer, are strategies for failure in the new media environment.
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