Cathy brought home the Sunday newspaper, and I spent a few minutes pulling out the sections I wanted to read. Which sections? The circulars from Best Buy, OfficeMax, Staples and CompUSA. We buy the daily newspaper never, and the Sunday paper maybe twenty times a year. I have absolutely no use for the news part of the newspaper, it’s just the package the real news comes in: What can I buy where for how little money?
In fact, I read the Arizona Republic and the Las Vegas Review Journal every morning, along with with whatever other news seems most apposite to my dealings. But I read everything on-line. And as much as I hate the hoops I have to jump through to read newspapers on-line — this by comparison to the extreme convenience of my RSS feed reader — reading them on-line is by far superior to wrestling with the antique form-factor in which they are sold.
Moreover, I do not intend to ever pay for a newspaper again unless it contains advertising circulars that can save me money. In the long run, even those will come to me in a format I like better, even if it’s only email, and that will be the end of the Sunday paper at our house.
There’s a disintermediation message in here, by the way: When I was a young turk in the graphics industry, the old timers would tell me that computers could never replace print because, after all, you can’t print a coupon on a CRT screen. It betrays something about their belief in the added value of works of the mind that they thought the thing of greatest worth that could be printed was a coupon, but — guess what? They were wrong anyway. Staples, for one, can’t seem to stop emailing me electronic coupons.
But here’s where I’m really heading with this: In general, I do not intend to pay for ordinary information. Period. If you want my money, you have to deliver something that I can’t get anywhere else — and that I can’t get along without. Or you have to deliver it in a form-factor that gives me access to your information at the same time that I lack alternatives. What that means is that I may buy a book for the airport, for now. In due course, I will have use for books only at the beach. Once I have a Treo-like Wi-Max device that can bear up to sun, sand and water, I will never, ever buy another book for the rest of my life.
Without doubt I am missing things. The Republic‘s user interface stinks, so it could be I’m missing as much as ten percent of the content. The Review Journal does a better, job, but they omit all the wire service copy. But I can catch that from Drudge or wherever. And by weblog entries, email, small-talk, radio news, etc., I can figure out what I’ve missed and plug any gaps with dispatch. In a year or two, news.google.com will give me ninety-plus percent of what I want in an RSS feed. In other words, this is a correctable nuisance.
How are information sources supposed to “monetize” their efforts? However they can, provided it’s not on my nickel. I’m a problem child that way, too. If you want to throw ads in front of my eyes, you can try, but it’s probably not going to work. I’m there to read what I want to know, I’ll be gone in seconds, and I only pay attention to advertising when I’m preparing to buy something.
There are alternatives. Seth Godin uses his Technorati 25 weblog to sell… Seth Godin — in the form of books or speaking engagements. Mainstream media sites and profit-seeking weblogs chop up their content with advertising — which is annoying but eminently ignorable. Corporate weblogs try, with greater and lesser degrees of success, to dress up PR as information.
But from where I sit, we are well beyond the point where metering information has become pointless. I wrote about this in my first post in BloodhoundBlog:
The phenomenon Chris Anderson writes about in this article from Wired Magazine is a secondary consequence of outrageous abundance. In a subsistence culture, the work of the mind is precious and literally unsupportable. We are by now so rich that millions of people can create intellectual resources that they give away, in turn to be remarketed by others. This may or may not work in the long run for companies tapping into and amplifying open-source-like works of the mind. Consider that aggregator software levels the playing field for small players. The interesting thing is what it will do to companies whose entire business model is based on scarcity and hoarding. If almost-as-good is free or nearly free, what is the market value of slightly-better?
This has disintermediation implications, too, the kind that strike closer to home. But the people most immediately affected are the ones who are currently paid a salary or wages based on the sale of information. Either the information is going to get much, much better — or the number of paychecks is going to get much, much smaller.
Stewart Brand said “information wants to be free”. This has intellectual property implications far beyond ordinary information. But with respect to that ordinary information — news, opinion, fiction, poetry, almost all music, etc. — the war is over. Hoarding lost. The challenge amidst this vast abundance is not getting people to pay for your information — but simply getting them to pay attention to it.
The daily newspaper has no hope whatever of nicking me for fifty cents. The question that will decide if there is even to be a newspaper is, can they hold onto my eyes for as long as fifty seconds? And will someone pay for those eyes in the random hope of piercing my vast indifference to advertising?
It comes down to career advice, I think, for the newspaperati and for all of us: How much future is there in a job that millions of very smart people are willing to do for free? Maybe not the same work, but so close that any differences become academic. And: If you’re committed to sharing information even in a marketplace where ordinary information is so abundant as to be without monetary value, what are you going to do to make a living?
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