Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Next?

Perplexing. Baffling. Those are a few of the less than effective words to describe my thoughts about the New World... the digital world.

I'm pretty good at it. I've been ahead of the curve on several occasions. I love that in the past, I had the same access to "publishing" (digitally) as did any major corporation. I know the answer is never to stick one's head in the sand, but to somehow find a way to work with the New World and not whine about it.

I've been watching the newspapers struggle and like everyone else, I have no idea what the answer is. Fine, newspapers are old-school. Advertising has always seemed lame to me anyway, something I've never quite grasped. I do grasp when things go viral and grassroots. I GET IT.

What I don't get is how these new models can generate any income if no one pays for anything anymore. Let's face it, "exposure" doesn't pay the mortgage. And is a blogger every bit as qualified to write about something as an educated expert?

Um, sometimes. I can't get behind the concept that every reporter is somehow above the rest of us. I've met some reporters who really are all that. I've also met a surprisingly large number of prancing boutique snots. Would a blogger (me?) have more insight into Kuwait City than a Middle East stringer, for example? Or into how to maneuver through Barcelona on a shoestring, moreso than a Spain-beat reporter? Damn straight. I have self-interest in both these areas.

But do I know more about local education than a local public radio reporter? Absolutely not. Do I know more about what books are coming out than a cultural critic? Nope. More science than a science expert who has been translating scientific terms for mass consumption for 40 years? No way. And who pays the salaries for these experts? Advertisers, who hope to influence the buying decisions of the audience of the expert.

My assumption is that things will be rocky but will eventually work out as a new model.

But what about books? The eReader and the Kindle have blazed new ground... what about when Apple produces something like the Kindle and it gets through to the masses? When digital book downloads become common? Pirated editions are already out there.

In short, we're next.

But you know, at my level, the income generated from book writing is so miniscule that giving away content for free is barely different...

8 comments:

Ed Ward said...

Well, yes and no. Your insight into Kuwait City and Barcelona is of a very specialized sort, the sort that one would hope a reporter writing a piece would tap to add depth to the final product. That's the reporter's *job*: to find people with your expertise and quote them and/or use their knowledge to find stuff to write about that they might not otherwise find.

Should you get paid for this? Depends. Should a reporter who's juggling a half-dozen stories at any given time, in various degrees of completion? Certainly. If you can provide a similarly in-depth service to your niche audience, and do it with enough authority and independently enough, you should of course be compensated. How? Oh, now, in these days when every idiot with access to a computer is an expert, that's the question.

Marie said...

Whoa, I must not have expressed myself very well. I wasn't saying should a blogger get paid for this. I'm not saying "should" anyone. I'm saying "How" will people (reporters, writers, anyone) get paid if no advertisers are paying what they used to pay for print. That's all.

As for bloggers, everyone is trashing their amateur status and has been for years. Some are, some aren't. Case by case is all I'm saying.

Kevie said...

Since advertising has been paying my bills for several years, I'm more than a little nervous to see how this all shakes out. I'm also morbidly fascinated with the following question: Will there still be such a thing as big-budget news and entertainment in this user-controlled, drag-and-drop utopia we're heading to? If everyone can get everything for free, how can anyone finance The Dark Knight, or the New York Times? Are we going to be stuck with blogs and amateur YouTube videos from here on out? Or will some collusion of government and corporate power eventually figure out how to choke off the media free for all, and go back to a monetized system? Who the hell knows.

Marie said...

The way I see it, all ways of looking at this are variations on two approaches:

1- Gloom and doom, we're all screwed. It's the end of the world as we know it.

2- Something will come up. Models will evolve. Things will change. Now how can I stay current in the end of the world as we know it?

I know I'm being polyannaish about the whole thing. Maybe it's because I've had years where I've earned as little as S7,000. There's not a lot of money in writing small-time books. I have less to lose than most, having been poor sometimes, having no one to support, knowing I have a secret real estate-inspired cushion now that can always get me to Bangkok where living is a lot cheaper. A single person who has lived many places is more nimble than a family.

My take on it is that much as graphic design evolved from when everyone with a Mac became a "designer," there is hope down the road. New models don't pay. YET.

But they will eventually. BUT... there may be different focus on types of news. I don't think blogs will be the eventual source of all product. I personally believe the days of blog-mania are behind us and new models will now develop. (I base this upon absolutely nothing but the instinct I have, bearing in mind I'm a comic book editor and travel writer, not some kind of world expert.)

I do believe we are due for a certain type of shift. While I do believe that amateur news-gathering usually doesn't rise to the level of major organization clout news-gathering, I absolutely refuse to accept the idea that a generalist reporter working for a major news organization is therefore superior at work to an expert small-time specialist writer.

This I base upon the incredible number of inaccuracies I see in print every single day.

Or maybe that's just my wishful thinking as I am really fed up with people prancing around bragging about their pedigrees.

Anyway, I suppose it's possible that the new models will NEVER catch up to the income potential of the old models. In spite of gaining huge audiences, maybe the cost of web ads will never catch up to print ads. And then I suppose it will all be about getting by on less money.

I do have this cautionary tale: A former art director who could not modernize when CS came along is no longer an art director. Full speed ahead, then.

Stuart Moore said...

There are models evolving. Josh Marshall's TPM Media (home of Talking Points Memo) does a great deal of original reporting, and they've described a system of networked group-reporting that lets them analyze, for instance, a 300-page, deliberately obscure Republican memo on torture or the Iraq War budget very quickly and efficiently. Marshall doesn't talk much about his funding, but the company has grown considerably over the past few years.

Kevie said...

I think it's becoming more apparent every day that we're all going to be making do with less over the long haul!

The digital marketplace has a way of rewarding talent and determination (witness upstarts like TPM), and culling a lot of those folks who think they've make it to the mountaintop and can coast to retirement on their big-media credentials. The audience eventually drills down to those people who are delivering fresh, vital content consistently, whether establishment or independent. You go, Pollyanna.

I'm not about to argue with you over modernization. I seem to remember having to be convinced that e-mail wasn't a passing fad.

Marie said...

This is interesting.

http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/stephen_adlers_ten_things.php

"Your career will depend on luck," among other true statements.

Marie said...

Also:
http://www.niemanlab.org/2009/04/paying-for-online-news-sorry-but-the-math-just-doesnt-work/

And http://mediacafe.blogspot.com/2009/04/charging-for-online-content-new-updated.html