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Kickin' it Freestyle

A Vision for Content Providers in the 21st Century

14 june, 1995

Recently, I had the pleasure of being the youngest member of the New Directions for News Think Tank, discussing journalism and publishing in the 21st century. One of 24 Speakers in one driving day at the Rand Corporation. The audience was thirty media executives, some of whom were online, some of whom had never seen the Internet.
On the second day, after most of the other speakers left, I stayed on for scenario planning. Six hours of discussion with media executives and paper publishers considering visions of the future, and planning publishing accordingly. I had already spoken my vision for media in the next century, but going head to head with those guys helped me flesh it out.

Anyone with a computer and a passion can work their tail off and cover a story as well, if not better, than large media can.

Large publishers are in a bind: they have all these presses, and people; large capital investment that today set them head and shoulders above the print media small fry. The net is a whole new ball of wax. Anyone with a computer and a passion can work their tail off and cover a story as well, if not better, than large media can.
So their capital assets of today become liabilities of tomorrow, having to figure out how to maintain media structure to assure their place on top of the heirarchy - and their resulting financial solvency. It is already obvious that the net has short-lived brand loyalty; word of quality spreads quickly over channels of unlimited distribution.

If publishers are to stay on top, they can not simply rely on the biggest presses, they must offer the best content in their region. On the net, the regions are amorphous, pertaining more to subject matter than geography. Specialization is important, if you try to cover everything, somebody is doing it better, and you can't afford to pay someone to do things poorly.

As a reporter of the future, I am going to know exactly how many folks read each of my pieces. Chances are, the newspaper will be collecting miniscule fees each time someone reads it - two, five, ten cent digital cash stipends for each article. I probably won't see more than a third, to a half of that, since the newspaper is ostensibly providing the content, and paying for its backend.

If I am doing something unique, and I am doing it well, word is going to get around. Folks will be attracted to the subject matter and quality of my work, not the reputation of the newspaper. Most people would be visiting my pages directly from another page on the same topic, as opposed to the newspapers front end, which has twenty other pages to push, as well as advertising clutter.

Sounds like old thinking for a new medium.

So the newspaper is giving me server space, and some readers, in return for a signifigant cut of my take, and some readers in return.

Sounds like old thinking for a new medium.

If I left the newspaper, and set up my own homepage, I would be free to write what I wanted, when I wanted, and custom tailor my content as I see fit. I could interact directly with my readers, who would be paying only me, at my prices, for both new and archive alike.

The exposure and marketing that the newspaper ostensibly provides is done by the net - undoubtedly the fastest and most widespread communications medium around. If you is doin' cool shit, people will talk about it. Large publishers can't pay for word of mouth.

This technology encourages information entrepeneurs.

This technology encourages information entrepeneurs. Already it is possible to serve web pages from an old 486, or IIci in a closet somewhere - and the software gets easier to use and set up all the time. As soon as digital cash comes out, there will be incredible demand to set up small shops - there will be transaction technology for small scale web content cottage industry.
There are plenty of folks that will be employed by newspapers, filling up the institutional servers with their words, and drawing a steady paycheck in return. Someday, perhaps, the newspaper will decide to stop covering widgets, and they will be shifted about, or cut loose. Since they were on salary, none of the words they create are theirs to keep when they leave. No more web server, no words archive to intice readers, stuck groundless, rebuilding their content elsewhere, probably on their own server.

Better to start off with some buddies, get a server together, split the monthly cost of a connection. You'll have essentially unlimited space for your words and pictures, sounds and ultimately movies. Best to start now, so when digital cash comes around, you'll already have your store - you can just add a cash register.

As for the newspapers, they'll probably end up coordinating hot freelancers, providing exposure and point of view, comprised mostly of people doing contract work. They link you, you link them, sharing cashHits.

At that point, the difference between a newspaper, an institution, and some kid with a web page of cool links, is of little import. One is cheaper to run, and faster on its feet.

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