In May, I presented my conceptual paper Individuated Media in the Informational Era at the biennial World Media Economics and Management Conference in Rome. The paper has since been published the in the peer-reviewed, quarterly Journal of Strategic Innovation and Sustainability. I am particularly happy about this because I hadn’t solicited this journal. Instead, it had heard about the paper and asked to review it. Moreover, JSIS is a general-interest business journal, not a media industry journal, and it publishing the paper thereby demonstrates wider acceptance of the concept of Individuated Media.
Read about ‘Individuated Media’ in the Nordic Journal of Media Management
This article published the peer-reviewed Nordic Journal of Media Management asserts that new, extremely popular modes of media services have arisen during the past 25 years that need to be critically categorized as different from the Mass Media we have known from the Industrial Era. These aggregational, extremely customized, new genus of media services, which I term collectively Individuated Media, arise solely from computer-mediated technologies, and are unprecedented before this century. All take marked advantage of a largely overlooked inherent limitation that Industrial Era technologies have but that Informational Era technologies don’t. The article is based upon a presentation given in Qatar at the biennial International Media Management Academics Association conference.
Time For the Media Industries to Face Nine Bare Facts
“Not everything that is faced can be changed.
But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
– James Baldwin (1962)
The world’s media industries are nearly 20 years overdue facing these nine bare facts:
1. The daily newspaper industry’s wealth and vitality will never return. Almost all daily newspapers, whether published in print or online, will cease to exist during the coming decade (i.e., 2021-2030). This industrial evaporation is already underway and obvious throughout North America, Western Europe, Brazil, the southern cone of South America, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Australia, and New Zealand. Even in the world’s traditionally strongest markets for daily newspapers, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Scandinavia, the publications’ readerships, circulations, and advertising revenues have begun to erode. And in developing nations, where the daily newspaper industry has seen remarkable growth during the past 30 years, countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Persian Gulf and Central Asian nations, that growth had stalled during the years prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The evaporation of the world’s daily newspaper industry is not a cyclical contraction that might eventually reverse. Instead, it is a permanent extinction caused by fundamental, indeed epochal, changes in the media environment (see fact #5). Although by the end of the coming decade many nations might still have one or two national daily newspaper brands that continue to publish only online, all daily newspaper will have ceased to publish in print, plus virtually all the world’s regional and local daily newspapers will have ceased to exist.
The similar evaporation of the world’s weekly news magazine industry is even more progressed. There is already little viable market for more than one weekly printed news magazine in most countries. By the middle of the coming decade, virtually all weekly news magazines in the world will cease to publish in print. Many legacy brands of formerly weekly newsmagazines will continue to publish online only and with much diluted coverage, much smaller readerships, and far lower revenues than what those legacy brands had earned during previous decades. Most weekly news magazines that publish online already update daily; thus once those magazine titles cease to publish in print they will compete online directly against daily publications, making their categorical chrononym weekly superfluous.
2. Daily newspapers and weekly news magazines aren’t dying because of corporate greed or because the public no longer cares about news. Although it is true that the publicly traded corporations and the hedge funds that own most news publications have burdened those with onerous ‘contribution margin’ revenue and profit demands, it is a fact that privately-owned news publications and not-for-profit news publications have suffered virtually identical decreases in readerships, circulations, and advertising revenues, during the same periods, as have news publications owned by publicly traded corporations or by hedge funds. The media industry pundits who scapegoat publicly traded corporations and hedge funds myopically fail to see the panorama of changes in the media environment that in fact have led to these publications evaporating fortunes and likely demise. Although well-intentioned, pundits guilty of that misperception have helped blind the industries they claim to guide.
And as for whether or not the public still cares about news, surveys by general polling companies such as Gallup, Harris, etc., plus data from media analytics companies such as ComScore and Nielsen, consistently indicate that the public nowadays consumes more news than ever before. The cogent difference between now and 25 or more years ago is that although fewer people now read printed news periodicals, the aggregate time that people now spend consuming news is greater than at any time in history, and that people now consume it via computer-mediated devices (probably more access and choices of news than ever before (see fact #5). Moreover, people online now consume news from far many more organizations than when their access was limited to merely whatever printed periodicals and over-the-air broadcast channels were locally distributed or locally receivable. Neither extreme greed by corporations nor public disregard for news are the fundamental reasons why daily newspapers and weekly news magazines are dying in print and online.
3. The key reason why most people in the Informational Era will no longer pay for the packages of contents that media companies have been producing is simply the Principle of Supply & Demand economics. It is not, as some media pundits claim, because people ‘have gotten used to obtaining contents for free’ online and have simply become habituated to free.
During the past several decades, billions of people’s supply of news, of entertainment, and of other information, has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus (or even overload). Although most people are willing to pay something, depending upon what type of news, entertainment, or other information. and how it is selected and packaged, the subscription payment rates that most Mass Media companies nowadays ask them to pay are unrealistically at least an order of magnitude higher than what market economics necessitates for a functioning market. Moreover, the erection and operation of website ‘paywalls’ by those companies now thwarts many potential new consumers (notably younger ones unfamiliar with those companies’ printed products) from gaining sufficient experience and familiarity with these websites to motivate them to subscribe. And as research by the University of Michigan and the University of Georgia recently published in the Journal of Marketing shows, most Mass Media companies’ website paywalls have counterintuitively resulted in the loss of most of those websites’ heaviest users; significantly reduced those websites’ advertising revenue; and have been successful only at slightly reducing the ongoing declines in the number of remaining subscribers to the companies’ editions, simply by reducing the savings those subscribers would otherwise gain by cancelling their printed edition subscriptions and using the websites for free). With rare exceptions, these paywall endeavors have failed to generate revenues high enough to reverse or compensate for the declining overall revenues from these companies’ printed or otherwise legacy products and service, and are symptomatic of the Mass Media industries’ continued myopia to how radically consumers’ newfound supply of contents have transformed (see fact #5) the economics of the media environment.
People generally want to know the news, to be entertained, to be informed. During the the Industrial Era, most people were willing to pay the prices publishers would ask for packages (i.e., a printed edition of news, an album of music, etc.) of Mass Media contents. That was because people had relatively scarce access to such. Their supply was limited to whatever daily newspapers and weekly or monthly magazines were locally available and to whichever television and radio stations were locally receivable. In the cities and towns of most developed nations 30 to 50 years ago, that meant perhaps one to four newspaper titles and 20 to 30 magazines available at newsstands, kiosks, and by hand or postal delivery, plus one, two, or three television stations and maybe a total of ten to 20 radio stations. Yet beginning during the 1970s, installation of cable television systems has increased by two magnitudes the number of television channels available to those consumers. During the 1980s, widespread conversion of printing facilities from letterpress (i.e., melted lead) to offset lithography (computerized typesetting) technologies made publication of special-interest magazines economical, increasing by more than a magnitude the numbers available to consumers. The opening of the Internet to the public during the early 1990s had led to consumers gaining online access to every newspaper, magazine, and book now or ever published, a gain of many magnitudes. Widespread implementation of broadband technologies during the first decade of this new millennia gave consumers access to every radio station and television channel worldwide, as well streaming access to cinema contents. ‘Smartphone’ mobile access during the 2010s has made this newfound cornucopia of contents available to consumers everywhere. It is not inordinate to state that all these developments increased consumer’s access and supply of news, entertainment, and other information, by 1.5 to 5 magnitudes, depending upon category of contents. And as anyone who has been to a bazaar, souk, flea market, or trading floor understands, whenever the supply of something hugely increases, the price which people are willing to pay for that hugely decreases (and the power over transaction shifts from buyer to seller). Unfortunately, the prices that publishers nowadays ask consumers to pay for contents hasn’t adjusted much at all to how the supply of those contents has radically increased.
Publishers have discovered that the majority (>70 percent) of consumers demonstrably won’t pay those subscription prices are demonstrably will no longer pay for those Mass Media companies’ packages of information, either in print or online. Indeed, Mass Media companies have discovered that only a small minority (<10 percent) of their website’s visitors will purchase subscriptions when faced with paywalls. Probably the best known example of this is with The New York Times, arguably the premiere daily newspaper in the English language. Eight years now after after erecting its website’s paywall, and after spending tens of millions of dollars marketing paid subscriptions to that website’s visitors, The New York Times Company management early this year reported that by the end of 2019 it has been able to motivate only 3.4 million of the website’s 136 million registered visitors to subscribe. (If those who purchased special subscriptions giving them access solely to recipes or to crosswords puzzles but not the newspaper’s news stories are included, the number of subscribers increases to 4.4 million). That is a conversion rate of merely 2.5 percent (3.2 percent if recipe and crossword puzzle subscribers included). To put that in context, the U.S. Direct Marketing Association reports average conversion rates of between 2.9% to 5.1% for single, unsolicited postal marketing campaigns (i.e., junk mail) for consumer products. Thus, eight years of campaigns involved multi-million-dollar marketing by The New York Times has generated lower conversion rates than even a single average ‘junk mail’ gets. Less renowned daily newspapers have even worse subscription conversion rates from their websites’ paywalls.
Another dynamic reduces further the prices that consumers are willing to pay for Mass Media packages of contents. As first noted by Evan Schwartz in his 1997 book Webonomics, Industrial Era packages of Mass Media contents, such as newspapers or magazines, tend to ‘unbundle’ once placed online. During the Industrial Era when people’s access to daily changing information was relatively scarce, most people in their community might have been willing to subscribe or pay for a copy of the their local daily newspaper to read its international, national, regional, and local news, sports, business, and feature stories. Nowadays, however, a person who wants to know international news will more likely access the website of The New York Times, BBC, CNN, others renowned source of international news, rather than continue to access their local daily newspaper’s website for the news. A tennis fan will more likely access the websites of Sports Illustrated or Tennis magazine than continue using his local daily newspaper’s sports pages in print or online. Etcetera. The only categories of news for which he might continue using his local daily newspaper in print or online is local news of his community. Yet local news is nowadays only approximately half to one-third the contents of that newspaper, which means that the value or price that people are willing to pay to subscribe to that newspaper falls proportionately at least that much. Surveys during the past decade have indicated that many people are willing to pay a subscription of $5 to $3 or less per month to access their local newspaper’s website. Unfortunately, most newspaper publishers demand at least $10 to $15 per month for an online subscription. The end result is too much of a value/price gap between buyer and seller, a market failure resulting in very few online subscribers.
4. Selling online advertising will never generate Mass Media companies the advertising revenues that those companies had earned during the Industrial Era from selling printed or over-the-air or cable broadcast packages of contents. Like fact #3 above, this is because of due to the Principle of Supply & Demand. Advertising pricing functioned according to the economics scarcity during the Industrial Era, when people’s supply of media was relatively scarce . During the Informational Era, however, it functions according to the economics of surplus, now that people have a surplus (or even overload) of media.
Revenue from advertising sales was a major source of revenues for Mass Media during the Industrial Era, although its proportion of overall revenues varied by region. For examples, selling advertising space had generated approximately 80 percent of revenues for North American printed daily newspapers, yet roughly the reciprocal for European daily newspapers. Selling advertising time generated 100 percent of revenues for commercial broadcasters in nations with little or no governmental broadcasting presence, yet zero percent in nations with most governmental broadcasting monopolies. No matter if 10, 20, 50, 80, or 100 percent of overall revenues, advertising has been an important revenue stream for most Mass Media companies, one that often could make or break profitability.
During the Industrial Era, advertising sales function according to the economics of scarcity because there is a finite amount of page space in a printed edition or airtime in a broadcast. As a rule, the more consumers who read, listened, or viewed a Mass Media product or service, the more demand there was among advertisers to purchase that finite advertising page space or airtime adjacent or interstitial in those products or services. In other words, the greater the audience, the greater the price that Mass Media companies could charge for that page space or airtime. Once people worldwide began shifting their media consumption habits from printed periodicals and from over-the-air or cable television systems and to online, most Mass Media executives assumed that the economics of advertising online was also based upon the Industrial Era economics of scarcity. Unfortunately for Mass Media companies in the new Information Era, however, the economics of selling advertising online are based upon the economics of surplus, the inverse of scarcity (an inversion arising from fact #5 below).
Consider the following contrasting examples. Take a printed monthly publication with one million circulation (i.e., subscriptions plus single-copy sales), in which each approximately 30-page edition contains 15 page of advertising space, and whose publisher is able charge advertiser $100,000 per page of that advertising space. If by some genius of marketing, that publication’s circulation suddenly and reliably increases to two million circulation, its publisher is under no obligation to double the number of pages in each edition (although he could) including doubling the number of advertising pages. Instead, he could continue to publish the approximately 30-page editions, with 15 pages of advertising space, but now be able to charge advertisers perhaps $200,000 per page. In other words, increase consumer consumption directly tends to increase ad . Contrast that with the website of this publication. Let’s hypothetically say that it contains 30 webpages, each of which contain at least one banner advertisement; that it normally receives one million online visitors per month; and that its has been receiving one million online visits (i.e., ‘page views’) per month. That means its publisher needs to have already found buyers of at least one million banner ads per month. If then by some genius of marketing, this website’s suddenly and reliably starts receiving two million online visits per month, its publisher then must find buyers of at least two million banner ads per month. Online space isn’t finite but infinite: surplus, not scarce. If the website’s publisher cannot find buyers for that extra million banner ads per month, then he will either have to publish half of his webpage exposures with any advertising or perhaps run twice each of the one million of banner ads for which he has found buyers. Either of those two ways effectively halve the per ad rates he charges. (A third alternative would be simply bill the purchasers of one million banners ads for two million banner ads, a method unlikely to succeed.) Thus, increased consumer consumption online tends to not increase a website’s per ad rates, but often actually lower those per ad rates (‘CPM’). Increased consumer traffic directly increases the inventory of advertising for which a website must have buyers. Moreover, as the number of websites using advertising as a revenue source increases online, which it astronomically has, that too increased the available inventory of banner ad space for which buyers must be found, which also tends to dampen or decrease online ad rates. Most Mass Media executives weren’t aware of these differences when during the past two dozen years they began shoveling their otherwise printed or broadcast contents into online and hoped that this would generate advertising revenues commensurate to those from their legacy products and services. For instance, the U.S. daily newspaper industry now after 24 years online has more circulation online than it does in print; yet its online revenues overall have grown to only abut $3.5 billion annually while its printed revenues overall have declined from $42 billion to approximately $14 billion during the past 15 years.
The advertising business model of the Industrial Era’s Mass Media, rooted in scarcity, doesn’t readily transplant into the new Information Era’s media environment. As billions of people worldwide continue to diminish or end their consumption of printed editions and of over-the-air or CATV scheduled broadcast programming, that difference increasingly becomes a disaster for Mass Media. Consider The New York Times. During 2019, online advertising from its websites’ 136 million users generated 51 percent of the company’s $531 million in total advertising revenues. Yet advertising from only 443,000 weekday and 918,000 Sunday readers of its printed editions generated the remaining 49 percent. Based upon readers on weekdays, the majority of days in which that newspaper publishes both in print and online, that means each reader of the printed edition was indirectly generating $587.34 in annual advertising revenues for that newspaper company and each reader (i.e., ‘monthly unique visitor’) to its website was indirectly generating a mere $1.99 in annual advertising revenues. In other words, each printed edition reader was worth 295 website visitors in terms of advertising revenue! And as ever more of the newspaper’s consumers continue to shift their media consumption habits from print to online, the harder it will be for that and other newspapers and magazines to compensate for their lost printed edition advertising revenues.
5. The recent shift from relative scarcity to surplus (or overload) in people’s access and supply of news, entertainment, and other information, is the greatest development in the history of media since the invention of writing more than 5,000 years ago.
Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press circa 1440 has long been considered by western scholars as the greatest development in the history of media. It permitted the mass production and mass distribution of texts that would last for generations. Within 30 years of its invention, approximately 1,000 book titles had been printed and sold to thousands of Europeans. It was a key development in the history of media, which helped catalyze the European Renaissance and Age of Discovery. Yet if it is indeed a significant development, it pales in comparison with what has occurred now during the past 30 years: more than 4.6 billion people (60 percent of humanity) have gained nearly instantaneous access to all of the information that has ever before been printed and broadcast. What technological, commercial, political, cultural, and societal changes will be catalyzed by billions of people now having access to this gargantuan vast cornucopia of information? The ramifications of this massively greater development are only beginning to be perceived and understood. One that has already become clear is that this epochal shift from relative scarcity to surplus has markedly changed how people consume news, entertainment, and other information.
Most pundits, professors, and professionals in the media industries inexplicably can’t see the forest for the trees. They agree that media consumption has changed, but most see only superficialities: that consumers have simply become ‘wired’, ‘hooked-up’, or gone ‘digital’ (the colloquial, if often erroneously used, moniker for online). Consequently, most pundits, professors, and professionals in the media industries believe that computer-mediated online technologies (i.e., online) exist ancillary to Mass Media as means to extend electronically the reach of Mass Media products and services. They consider online as paperless ways of distributing the contents of otherwise printed editions, or as antenna-less ways of broadcasting. They see computer-mediated technologies as a means by which formerly separate sectors of Mass Media can now to compete against one another in a ‘converged’ multimedia format. That these computer-mediated technologies might beget an entirely new and superior genus of media that is superseding Mass Media is a conceptual framework beyond their ken. Thus, most have myopically failed to perceive the panorama of the more fundamental, indeed epochal, ways by which the dawning Informational Era’s technologies have profoundly transformed what had previously been the Mass Media environment of the Industrial Era. This myopia hobbles their abilities to adapt, dooming their media companies or their media schools. The obvious declines of Mass Media companies’ revenues and audiences during the past 15 years are evidence of all this.
To see the larger panorama of changes, deliberate the following thought experiment. Imagine that throughout your life you had been served whatever meal that everyone else in your community was served that day. However, you now have been given access to the largest buffet in the world. Would you continue to consume the standard meals that you are given? Or would you instead select from that gargantuan buffet whatever mix of items you think best match your own unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes? If you are like billions of online consumers nowadays, you’ll choose the buffet, rather than the standard meal, for most (if not all) of your subsequent meals. You’ll either reduce or cease your consumption of the standard meals. That is how media consumption has fundamentally changed now that most people’s access and supply of news, entertainment, and other information, has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus (or overload). Gaining access to a gargantuan cornucopia or buffet of information, billions of people are reducing or eliminating their previous consumption of the uniform or standardized packages of contents that the Mass Media produced. Those billions of people now instead have used search engines and social media to hunt and gather mixes of the items that better matches each of those consumer’s own of unique mix of needs, interests, tastes, and believes, than any uniform or standardized package or packages of Mass Media contents can. This change in media consumption is radically reshaping the world’s media environment. As advances in computer-mediated technologies increase, particularly with the onset of machine learning and artificial intelligence, this change ultimately dooms the content selection and packaging methods and business models, as well as many of theories, doctrines, business models, and practices, that were developed for Industrial Era media technologies and have collectively become known as Mass Media.
Academicians debate exactly when the Industrial Era began. Some think it dates from the invention of the steam engine. However, I think it began more than two centuries earlier with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable-type printing press. His press invented mass production. The texts in a book or a newspaper could be mass-produced then mass-distributed: Marconi’s invention of the analog waveform broadcast transmitter centuries later did the same for mass distribution of audio or video contents. All the forms of media we colloquially know as Mass Media arose from such Industrial Era technologies: the analog mass production and mass distribution of a thing. Wonderful as those analog technologies have been, however, they all have a fundamental limitation. The hallmark limitation at the core of Mass Media is that despite mass production and mass reach, the analog media technologies of the Industrial Era which spawned Mass Media are incapable of creating a unique packages of contents (i.e., a unique edition, a unique program schedule, a unique musical playlist, etc.) for each consumer according to that individual’s own unique mix of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs. All recipients of a Mass Media package of contents simultaneously received the same mix of items: the same edition, same program schedule, same playlist, as everyone else who has acquired it from that publisher or that broadcast. I refer to this hallmark limitation as analog uniformity. Mass Media’s theories, doctrines, business models, and practices, are rooted within that hallmark limitation of Industrial Era analog production technologies. Because of this limitation of Mass Media, the producers or editors of Mass Media packages of contents use two criteria when selecting which items to include in those packages they produce. They choose (1) items about which they think everyone should become informed, and/or (2) items which might have the greatest common interest. Nevertheless, no matter how skilled those producers or editors might be, the result (as surveys of recipients perennially have indicated) are that the majority of items in each standardized or uniform edition or program schedule don’t interest the average recipient, only a few of the items do.
Unlike with the Industrial Era’s analog media technologies, that hallmark limitation does not exist in Informational Era’s computer-mediated technologies. These new media technologies have equal or greater mass reach than did the Industrial Era’s analog media technologies, yet are entirely capable of producing and distributing unique packages of contents (i.e., an individualized edition, an individualized program schedule, an individualized playlist, etc.) to each consumer according to that individual’s own unique mix of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs. The billions of consumers who now use these new media technologies, giving them access to all of the world’s news, entertainment, and other information, clearly have been reducing or abandoning their consumption of Mass Media products and services because these new media technologies help them find a better mix of contents to satisfy their own unique mix of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs than Mass Media products and services can technologically supply. And as the accelerating power, articulation, and sheer scope of computer-mediated technologies continue to advance during this century (as will inevitably happen due to Moore’s ‘Law’, the Internet of Things, Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, etc.), the superior capabilities of computer-mediated technologies versus analog media technologies will correspondingly and ineluctably increase.
6. The explosive commercial success of search engines, social media, and such genre-specific algorithmic media as Pandora, Spotify, Flipboard, News360, etc., and the corresponding commercial declines of newspapers, news magazines, and general interest broadcasts are direct results of the Informational Era superseding the Industrial Era, as is people’s access and supplies of news, entertainment, and other information, shifting from relative scarcity to surplus (even overload).
During the latter decades of the previous century, when Mass Media companies began shoveling (‘repurposing’) into computer-mediated delivery technologies (i.e., online) their printed or broadcast products or services, executives of those companies and their industries had been attracted to online media because it is free of the costs of purchasing, printing, and delivering printed paper products, and of the regulations involved in governmentally licensed broadcasting, the range limitations of terrestrial broadcast antennae, and the channel rights negotiations necessary for cable broadcast transmissions. Most executives thought that attempting to transplant their companies’ contents and business models into online was at least a worthwhile experiment that might lead to auxiliary revenues; some executives thought the experiments might even lead to online possibly superseding printed editions and terrestrial (‘over-the-air’) and cable television transmissions as the future delivery mechanism of their companies’ products and services. What none of these executives perceived was that computer-media online technologies would instead engender an entirely new genus of media, one markedly different than Mass Media.
Because the hallmark limitation of the Industrial Era’s Mass Media (see fact #5) technologies simply doesn’t exist in the Informational Era’s computer-mediated technologies, development of new media products and services that breached that limitation was ineluctable. These new media products and services offer each consumer a mix of contents that is a far better match to each consumer’s own individual mix of news stories, entertainments, and other information items, than the products and services of Mass Media can produce. That development was foreseeable. Nicholas Negroponte, the director of the M.I.T. Media Lab predicted it in his 1995 book Being Digital. Nine years later, I and others were warning the world’s daily newspapers that their industry was about to begin an inexorable collapse if they didn’t quickly begin utilizing these remarkable new capabilities of computer-mediated technologies. Facebook was incorporated that year. YouTube was founded the following year. Google News and Twitter were each released the year after that. By then, Pandora had been successfully competing against the radio industry for six years. Why the executives of Mass Media companies, notably those who had pioneered ‘shovelware’ repurposing of their companies’ contents online, failed to perceive and use the unprecedented capabilities of computer-media technologies equal and exceed the mass reaches of Mass Media products and services but simultaneously to do so with mass production of individualized feeds of news stories, entertainments, and other items of information, that more precisely match each consumer’s individual mix of needs, interests, and tastes did than can any products or services of Mass Media is a titanic loss to their industries.
Although consumers lacked those executives’ expertise about legacy media, billions of consumers worldwide began shifting their consumption habits from legacy Mass Media to these new media products for the above obvious reasons as the Industrial Era waned and the Informational Era dawned. The early adopters among them first did this through usage of search engines, which aided each in manually hunting and gathering news stories, entertainments, and other items of information that matched their own unique mix of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs. By the start of the second decade of this new millennium, they and hundreds of millions of other consumers discovered that web-based online services ostensibly designed for collaborative sharing of interests, services now collectively known as social media, automated and markedly increased the efficiency of their hunting and gathering of such mixes of contents (similarly to how collaborative efforts of like-minded individuals had greatly increased the efficiency of hunting and gathering the needs of their Neolithic ancestors). And in recent years, computer-mediated online services that deliver individualized mixes of specific forms of contents (Pandora, Spotify, etc., for music; Flipboard, News360, etc. for news; Netflix, YouKu, etc., for video entertainment) have been launched and attracted up to hundreds of millions of consumers. Unique to the Informational Era, search engines, social media, and other algorithmically processed, computer-mediated services that produce and deliver individuated results can be collectively known as Individuated Media.
Aren’t such new media products and services merely new forms or auxiliaries to Mass Media? They do have mass reach. For example, Facebook currently more than 2.4 billion users, twice the reach of the world’s largest Mass Media organization (China Central Television with 1.2 billion viewers). However, strikingly unlike any Mass Media product or service, each of Facebook’s 2.4 billion users simultaneously sees a unique mix of contents, different than that any other of those users sees. (In Facebook’s case this is generated according to each user’s own individual mix of friends and of expressed ‘Like’s and ‘Follow’s, etc.). Unlike the Mass Media of the Industrial Era, the Individuated Media of the Informational Era combines mass reach with mass individuation.
That Individuated Media products and services better satisfy people’s desire to find the best possible mixes of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs, than Mass Media can provide has been amply demonstrated worldwide this century by Individuated Media products’ and services’ fulminant commercial rise and Mass Media products’ and services’ correspondingly precipitous commercial decline. Indeed, Individuated Media products and services have already superseded Mass Media products and services as the prominent means by which worldwide most people under the age of 40 obtain news, entertainment, and other information.
7. As the information Era rapidly succeeds the Industrial Era, the longer that legacy Mass Media companies persist in prolonging production of products or services that computer-mediated technologies of the Informational Era have already rendered obsolete, the more difficult it will be for those Mass Media companies to adapt and less likely it will be that they will survive.
During the early years of this century, the corporate and new media executives of most Mass Media companies myopically failed to perceive anything but superficialities amid the epochal changes that were already then transforming the world’s media environment (see facts #5 & #6). Their myopic failures to see the larger changes, and specifically how those would obsolesce their companies’ packages of contents, therefore dooming their business models and revenues, were grave oversights that have since cost their industries literally hundreds of billions of dollars in lost revenues worldwide during the past decade. (The U.S. daily newspaper industry alone has lost more than half of its annual revenues, with aggregate losses during the past decade totally some $100 billion.) Mass Media nowadays have less wherewithal, in terms of financial or human capital, to adapt and survive than they did 20 years ago. Most nowadays continue cluelessly apace, unsure what, if anything, to do except whatever the companies had been doing prior to the epochal changes. Most corporate and new media executives of Mass Media companies wanly hope that someone, somewhere, will somehow discover or innovate some as-yet ‘missing’ business model that will reverse their legacy industries’ declines before the dust settles. Hope springs eternal but the well runs dry.
It is fundamentally impossible for legacy Mass Media companies to regain their previous positions as the predominant means by which most people obtain news, entertainment, and other information. That is simply because those companies remained Mass Media companies; didn’t become Individuated Media companies; and lost their dominance to ‘pure-play’ Internet startup companies whose executives could more clearly see how the media environment had changed.
Nevertheless, though Mass Media cannot regain their former positions in that environment, they nonetheless still hold some remaining leverage. Even though user-generated contents form the prevailing portion of most Individuated media companies’ contents, links to items from Mass Media companies compose a pronounced portion. Within that partial dependence lay the remaining opportunities (fact #8) for the legacy Mass Media industries. Yet before those opportunities can be leverage, the Mass Media industries themselves need implement two long-overdue internal changes: one organization and the other infrastructural.
The Mass Media industries’ executives involved in the new media environment are fond of using the word ‘convergence‘ yet have organizationally failed to converge their industries. For more than 25 years, they have talked about how computer-mediated technologies allow formerly separate sectors (the newspapers, magazines, radio, television, etc.) of the media industries each to produce products and services that contain contents in formats native to the other sectors (i.e., newspapers offering videos, TV stations offering texts, etc.) and thereby compete in the new multimedia environment directly against each other. That outcome certainly has happened. Yet an overarching irony is that the Mass Media industries’ sectors themselves have not converged, but instead persist in maintaining their own sectored trade organization, sectored trade journals, sectored trade conferences, etc. Although there have been a few attempts to converge the Mass Media industries, such as by simply expansively renaming media sector trade organizations (such as the International Newspaper Marketing Association becoming the International News Marketing Association), or the creation of a multimedia-only trade organization, populated mainly by two dozen mostly American Mass Media companies (such as Digital Content Next), more than 98 percent of the world’s Mass Media companies remain isolated in their Industrial Era media sector silos. Yet those divisible sectors of the Mass Media industries are now trying to compete against gargantuan and truly converge companies of the Individuated Media industry. This fractious persistence of the old ways is a losing battle plan for the future.
The sectors of the Mass Media industries instead need to unify, particularly when competing against the Individuated Media industry for consumers and lobbying attention by governments. The time is well overdue to merge Mass Media siloed trade organizations nationally and internationally if those industries want to survive. This reorganization will require unprecedented cooperation among them, industry sectors which have historically competed against one another. However, if Mass Media industries truly believe in the convergence doctrine that they have been professing for more than 25 years, then they need to do it After having failed to perceive Individuated Media and metamorphose with it, their industry sectors that persist in going it alone will fail against the national and international competitive clout that the new companies producing Individuated Media contents now wield worldwide.
Hand in hand with that organization change is an infrastructural change that the Mass Media industries should have begun undertaking during the opening years of this century: they need to develop a common infrastructure. Doing so is absolutely necessary to ensure that the items which the Mass Media industries produce (books, news or entertainment stories, song and music, photographs, songs, videos, VR/ARs, and other items of information, etc.) are distributed optimally to masses of individual consumers according to each of those consumer’s own individual mixes of needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs. During the Informational Era, computerized algorithms rather than humans, will increasingly be handing item selections and distribution of media contents, something that requires a comprehensive embrace and optimal usage of standardized metadata coding, and not just production of the media items themselves. As advancements in computer-media technologies accelerate, as they certainly will this century as the costs of terabytes of computer random-access memory are predicted to drop to pennies and Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Quantum Computing implemented, the very survival of Mass Media industries depends on it.
Many, if not most, veterans of late Industrial Era Mass Media tend to view the concept of metadata as something alien or overly technocratic. Metadata however have be existed inconspicuously and been used throughout their Mass Media careers (an editors’ marking atop a story, denoting in what edition it is to be published, on what page, in what position, etc., or a producer’s notation about at what program time and in what order to broadcast a story; etc.) Formulated in 1995, the worldwide standard for metadata during the 21st Century is known as Dublin Core (ISO 15836, ANSI/NISO Z39.85, and IETF RFC 5013), having numerous subsets specifically for media (such as NewsML, SportsML, FIXML for financial information, etc.) Except perhaps for 50 forward thinking Mass Media companies in the world (Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Austria Presse Agentur, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Thomson Reuters, The New York Times Company, etc.) and it now being the standard of the International Press Telecommunications Council, 99 percent of the world’s Mass Media companies have yet to being using it. All Individuated Media companies do. It usage collapses legacy Mass Media sectors’ silos and facilitates the true convergence of media, media companies, and media industries.
Virtually every media school in the world nowadays teaches courses in HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to their students, yet hardly any teaches the much more urgently needed knowledge of Dublin Core XML and particularly its existing subsets for the media industries. These media schools’ curricular omissions are all the more curious because academic and scientific journal publishing have been using it for more than 20 years. Academic, scientific, and government journals have likewise long utilized the Document Object Identifier (DOI) system (ISO/DIS 26324) to track journal articles, research reports, data sets, official publications, etc. A DOI is a unique ID (‘persistent identifier’) for every such item, which allows such items to be tracked throughout the Internet, and could also be used to track any form of media item (such as a news story, a photo, a video or audio clip, etc.). It can be instrumental in allowing media producers, distributors, and consumers to track the usage and trace the providence of content beyond the techniques that Web analytics now provide (and particular so after the 2022 elimination of third-party ‘cookie’ tracking in such analytics).
Comprehensive implementation of DOI and Dublin Core usage throughout the Mass Media industries would be instrumental towards deployment of any future systems designed to remunerate media producers and distributors for content use. Most current paywall system operate only within a media company’s own websites, not from throughout the entire online distribution chain to the consumers. Dublin Core and DOI system are each open source and non-proprietary, an advantage over most commercial media software developers’ current or proposed paywall or micro-charging system, as well as not owned by the Individuated Media industries (search engines, social media, etc.) systems. The Mass Media industries should also seriously examine the Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid project, which perhaps is the only endeavor with the potential to allow the Mass Media industries to develop individuated services and compete directly against, as well as in, the Individuated Media industry.
Unless the Mass Media industries join together to implement some, or ideally all, these changes, they are doomed to fail in the new media environment. They need to examine these technologies and the new media environment serious and with eyes not blindered by a late 20th Century perspective.
8. The Individuated Media industries (which consist of the search engines, social media, plus computer-mediated genre services such as Pandora, Spotify, Flipboard, etc., see fact #6) which today predominate the media environment achieved their fulminant success through legitimate competition with the Mass Media industries. Nevertheless, they have become so potent worldwide that regulation of them has become necessary lest they become omnipotent. The several largest of them have grown to become the Informational Era’s version of informational utilities; and like the water, sewage, natural gas, electricity, and telephone companies that grew to dominance during the Industrial Era, these now need to become regulated for similar safety and hygienic reasons, as well as to prevent predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, and formation of cartels on a transnational scale.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Baidu [百度], Pandora, Renren [人人网}, Spotify, Vkontakte [ВКонта́кте}, etc., the largest companies in the Individuated Media industries [see fact #6) were neither designed nor founded to compete with the Mass Media industries. For examples, Google was started during 1996 as a webpage ranking experiment by two doctoral students at Stanford University who, when their experiment succeeded, founded the company to sell that software to other companies; in other words as business-to-business (B2B) software supplier of technology, not as a business-to-consumer company. Although they were surprised by the unexpected volume of consumer usage traffic their software demonstration website generated during those first several years, they were averse to earning ancillary revenues by selling online advertising space on that B2B software demonstration website. Nevertheless, they ultimately did and those revenues became anything but ancillary, generating 83 percent of Google’s parent company’s $162 billion in annual revenues last year. YouTube, nowadays the world’s largest on-demand video sharing website, was founded during 2005 as a video date ranking website like HotOrNot.com. YouTube quickly abandoned that purpose when millions of people instead used its website’s services to upload and share videos about almost anything. YouTube now generates $25 billion annually by selling interstitial video advertising time before consumers view those uploads or monthly fees from its consumers who want to avoid all those advertisements. Google purchased the company for $1.65 billion 22 months after YouTube’s founding. Facebook began during 2003 as Facesmash.com, a personal photo rating website like HotOrNot.com but only for Harvard University students. Its creator, student Mark Zuckerberg, subsequently changed the website’s purpose to being a hyperlinked version of his school’s printed ‘face book’ directory of incoming students and their interests. It became so quickly popular within Harvard that he added other universities and founding the company known as Facebook during 2004. Selling advertising space on its website was an afterthought years later: one that now generates $70 billion annually.
None of those Individuated Media companies were designed or founded to compete against the Mass Industries. Yet their products and services are the predominate means by which most adults under the age of 40 in developed countries now obtain news, entertainment, and other information. Google and Facebook themselves are two of the three most visited website in the world and have captured a combined 56 percent market share of all online advertising expenditures in the U.S. and 52 percent worldwide.
Despite not being initially designed nor founded to compete against the Mass Media industries, Individuated Media companies gained predominance in the 21st Century media environment legitimately, through market competition. Billions of consumers discovered that the Individuated Media industries’ computer-mediated, algorithmically driven technologies could provide then a better mix (see fact #6) of news, entertainment, and other information, to match their needs, interests, tastes, and beliefs, than could any Mass Media product or service or practical combinations thereof. Indeed, the Mass Media companies which nowadays claim that Individuated Media companies have grown to monopolize the new media environment and that Individuated Media companies should remunerate them for displaying abstracts and hyperlinks to their contents were not making such claims between 1998 and 2013 when they were happy that Individuated Media companies were doing those same things then. Perhaps blinkered by complacency and industrial inertia, executives of the Mass Media industries myopically failed to understand that the unprecedented capabilities of computer-mediated technologies went beyond mere delivery and rudimentary interactivity. Executives of Individuated Media companies had no such handicaps and saw the full potentials of computer-media technologies to better satisfy the purposes for which people use media. Thus, Individuated Media are superseding Mass Media at the start of the Information Era—much as during the middle of the 15th Century press rooms superseded monastic scriptoriums for the purpose of dissemination information at the start of the Industrial Era.
Nevertheless, the fulminant success of Individuated Media industries has become so potent worldwide that regulation of their largest companies has become necessary lest they become omnipotent. The largest of those companies, such as Google and Facebook, have effectively become the public information utilities of the Informational Era. Like the Industrial Era companies that grew so large providing the public with water, natural gas, electricity, and telephone communications, that they dominated regional, national, or international markets and became regulated as public utilities, the largest of information delivery companies during the Individuated Media should come under regulation for informational safety and hygiene reasons, and ro prevention of predatory pricing, tying, price gouging, and the formation of cartels. Much as during the 20th Century it became necessary to regulate media companies which broadcast to the public, such needs have arisen regarding Individuated Media during the 21st Century. Moreover, the rise of Information utilities raises unprecedented challenges to ensure the public good. Who controls what among any private data about the individuals who use these utilities? Who controls the algorithms used to select the information delivered to millions and billions of people? Refer to Columbia Law School Professor Lina Khan’s 2017 treatise Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox and to the United States House of Representatives’ 2020. report Investigations of Competition in Digital Markets for an examination of those and other challenges involved. Formulating such new regulations will be controversial, but the time has come.
9. The Mass Media industries were doomed by their new media executives who had put those industries online by the year 2000 yet thereafter complacently and myopically failed to perceive the gargantuan changes already underway in the media environment.
They failed to perceive that ‘always-on’ online access (nonetheless mobile access) would change how billions of people consumed media contents (see fact #5). Nor see how billions of people’s access and choice of news, entertainment, and other information, shifting from relative scarcity to surplus (or even overload) would further radically change that consumption. Nor specifically comprehend that the latent capabilities of computer-mediated technologies services existed beyond merely implementing online delivery and applying rudimentary interactivity to Mass Media contents but liberation from the hallmark limitation inherent in the Industrial Era’s analog media technologies that created the Mass Media. By 2007 when the ‘Great Recession’ occurred, those global changes in the media environment were already manifest and the window of opportunity for the Mass Media to change with those had closed, slammed shut by that recession. Meanwhile, the combination of those global changes in the media environment had already birthed an unprecedented new genus of media, collectively now called Individuated Media (see fact #7) which billions of consumer worldwide would embrace, competitively draining the Mass Media of audiences, advertisers, and financial resources. The Mass Media industries have spent the second decade of this century trapped in whirlpools of sinking fortunes and fates; most are desperately struggling just to stay afloat, nonetheless adapt to their new environment. Many might still have some slim chances of survival, but only by adopting unprecedented cooperation and coordination within and among their sectors, which is unlikely.
Conceptual myopia, institutional inertia, and human nature will likely cause the Mass Media industries to sink until whatever inertial momentum remains within them yields to history. As the dawning Informational Era replaces the waning Industrial Era and thus Individuated Media fully supersedes Mass Media as people’s predominant means of obtaining news, entertainment, and other information, only a few Mass Media companies will remain by mid-century (yet likely sooner as the accelerating power, articulation, and scope of computer-mediated technologies continue to advance, as inevitably they will with further development of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, etc.)
The conceptual situation in the media industries today is akin to that of the one in physics between the Michaelson-Morley Experiment of the late 1880s and the acceptance of the Theory of Relatively in 1904: advancements in technologies now demonstrate through repeatable results and data that the classical theories of past centuries are no longer fully useful and a new conceptual framework is required. Mass Media resigns to Individuated Media. That is a hard reality to accept for those media industry executives and media academicians whose hard-won expertise about the late Industrial Era media technologies, practices, doctrines, and theories known as Mass Media earned them their positions. Most of them naturally want to undergo the epochal challenge of learning the new when there remains some time to continue apace practicing or teaching the old ways. Indeed, most media schools are vocationally devoted to teaching only Mass Media theories, doctrines, and practices, despite the manifest decline of Mass Media during the past two decades. The longer media schools persist in teaching only the old ways, the longer media executive persist in practicing only the old ways, striving to preserve many now obsolete practices and doctrines, the weaker their industries, companies, and schools will become and the less likely will they be to adapt and survive. Some hidebound practitioners and teachers might view some aspects of Individuated Media as heretical, abhorrent, or even obscene; yet the open-minded ones will examine and fully appreciate the natural evolution, grand beauty, and fecund potential of them.
[Phryne (‘fray-ni’), by the way, was a famous courtesan in Athens during the Fourth Century B.C.E. Renowned for her beauty, and reputed to have been the model for sculpture Praxiteles‘s statue the Aphrodite of Knidos, the first nude statue of a woman from ancient Greece, and for his statue of Eros. Phryne was alleged to have bared a breast during a religious festival, a capital offense in ancient Greece. When it became apparent that she would lose her trial and her life, the orator Hypereides, defending her, suddenly removed Phryne’s robe and bared her before the judges. He asked, how can the very image of Aphrodite be impious? Unable to argue against that reasoning, they acquitted her.]
Individuated Media vs. Mass Media: Newspaper Cataclysm
[This essay first appeared in a slightly different form at DigitalDeliverance.com]
Welcome to the Newspaper Cataclysm. The financial disaster unfolding for the daily newspaper industries due to the coronavirus pandemic is a late-stage event in an even greater struggle that has been underway in the media environment for more than 25 years. Though the recession caused by the pandemic will kill many (possibly very many) daily newspapers, their real cause of death won’t be the pandemic or recession but those newspapers’ weakened state caused by an epochal change underway in the media environment.
Most publishing or broadcasting pundits circulate any of several shopworn excuses for the financial and popular usage decline of newspapers, news magazines, and news broadcasts during the past decades. The most frequently uttered are that avaricious corporate chain ownerships of media companies have slashed newsrooms to levels that can no longer produce services that consumers want to use; or that consumers simply no longer care at all about news; or if consumers care, then they still won’t pay for news because they’ve become used to obtaining information for free online; or that no one has yet found the ‘missing’ business model that will allow newspaper to earn revenues as great online as they had earned in print.
However, none of those myopic excuses is the real reason why the newspaper industry has begun to evaporate. Although it is true that corporate chain owners of newspapers, which comprise some 95 percent of the U.S. industry, have bled newsrooms dry, independently owned newspapers and those owned by not-for-profit foundations have suffered the same financial and popular usage declines as chain-bled ones. Multiple surveys (the most recent example) show that consumers do care about news and are willing to pay something for it, but not anywhere as much as they had been paying decades ago when newspapers had been their only locally-accessible sources of daily changing information in print. And there never was any ‘missing’ business model that will allow newspapers to regain the revenues and the audiences that they had had in print. The fundamental reason why the newspaper industry is failing is more than these banal excuses.
In each era of history, the theories, doctrines, practices, and business models of its media have always been defined by the technologies of that era. The reach of the voices of actors or priests and the sightlines of the props in royal courts, theaters, and churches wasn’t far, nor the range of town criers, during the Agricultural Era. Although some people date the start of the Industrial Era to the rise of powered machinery during the late 1700s, I date it to Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press in 1454. His machinery began mass production: books, newspapers, and magazines. It was the invention of Mass Media. Four and one-half centuries later in the Industrial Era, Marconi’s practical invention of the broadcast transmitter began to extend the reach of Mass Media worldwide. Unfortunately, there was a hallmark limitation to all mechanical (i.e., analog) printing presses and all analog waveform transmitters: they had mass reach but each recipient of that printed edition or that broadcast program schedule simultaneously received the exact same edition or broadcast. They had reach but analog uniformity. That might have been fine if every recipient had an identical mix of individual needs, interests, beliefs, and tastes; yet individual humans don’t. Nonetheless, this was the best Industrial Era technologies could do. The theories, doctrines, practices, and business models of Mass Media arose from within that hallmark limitation.
That limitation does not exist with computer-mediated technologies. The legacy media companies of the waning Industrial Era that have tried to transplant newspaper contents, practices, business models, doctrines, and theories into computer-mediated media (i.e., online, colloquially known as ‘digital’) either because it saves them purchasing, printing, and distributing paper or simply because billions of consumer have switched media consumption habits online, are too shortsighted to see that the media environment has been fundamentally transformed by computerization and liberated from Mass Media limitations.
As the Informational Era dawns, an entirely new genus of media, functionally different and distinct from Mass Media, rises with it. This genus has as much or more the mass reach as Mass Media, yet also can simultaneously deliver a unique mix of contents according to each recipient’s individual mix of needs, interests, beliefs, and tastes. Each of those unique mixes isn’t merely personalized (i.e, ‘a uniform golf ball but with your name printed on it’) or even customized (i.e., a uniform product to which parts have been added or subtracted), but a bespoke mix from its onset, and ideally with component parts selected not just from one source (i.e., a publisher, broadcaster, or other entity) but from all sources practicable. It delivers a fully individuated product or service for its consumer. These products and service truly are ‘New Media’, fitting with Steuer’s classic definition of interactivity, in striking functional contrast to Industrial Era legacy periodicals and broadcasts consigned to online delivery and erroneously called ‘new media’.
Each of us alive shares a few common interests (the weather, news of a disaster or pandemic, etc.) Many of us also share some group interests (a sport team, a popular cuisine, a fashion, etc.) Yet each of us has myriad idiosyncratic or specific interests, including some of which we might not know anyone with whom we share. It is the unique mix of common, group, and idiosyncratic interests, beliefs, and tastes that makes each of us individual. Imagine that previously in your life you had always been served the same meal as everyone else, but now you have access to a gargantuan buffet from which you could select whatever mix of items that you think best matches your individual needs, interests, and tastes. Would you continue consuming uniform meals or choose that buffet? I think it self-evident that most people would switch to the buffet, the more articulate means by which they can satisfy their individual needs, interests, and tastes. Billions of consumers have been making that same switch online thanks to the New Media.
So far, three general categories of Individualized Media have appeared during these early decades of the Informational Era. Each category is unprecedented in the history of media:
- The first and earliest is Search Engines. Although the world has had printed directories and encyclopedia, none were ever live (i.e., news updated with minutes, other listings within days); capable of parsing users’ questions; and delivering more information worldwide than had ever before been published and broadcast. Most consumers use Search Engines not for contents that the users could readily find in whatever Mass Media are locally based and distributed, but instead for more idiosyncratic contents. And no two individual users likely ever search for the same mix. (Indeed, for example, 15% of all Google searches terms each day have never been searched for before.) Consumers began using Search Engines in the 1990s to hunt and gather a better mix of contents to their individual needs, interests, beliefs, and tastes than Mass Media could give them. Is Google a Mass Media company? Its worldwide reach is absolutely mass, processing 3.5 billion searches each day. it is ranked the #1 website in the world by traffic, and it receives 32.3% of the world’s online advertising expenditures, at Mass Media’s loss.
- During the following decade, many New Media companies were launched to give those consumers automated help hunting and gathering individuated mixes of contents. Colloquially known as Social Media, these new services have long been mistaken by Mass Media executives as somehow supplemental services to Mass Media, as if social media were merely electronic bulletin boards instead of so much more. Social Media (such as Facebook, Sina Weibo, Vkontakte, Twitter, Renren, etc.) are now the primary means by which people under the age of 35 obtain news, entertainment, and other information. Social Media consumers receive an individuated feed of contents based upon their ‘Likes’, ‘Follows’, and network of ‘Friends’ (i.e., collaborative filtering). Facebook itself now has 2.5 billion users and 22% of the world’s online ad spending (83% of the world’s Social Media ad spending). Does all that make Facebook a Mass Media company? It certainly has mass reach, yet quite unlike Mass Media products, even those of the Industrial Era’s last decades, none of Facebook’s 2.5 billion users simultaneously sees the same mix of contents; each sees a uniquely individuated mix. Like Search Engines, Social Media products and services are Individuated Media.
- The third category of Individuated Media arising hasn’t yet a colloquial name (such as ‘Search Engines’ or ‘Social Media’) but instead are individuated media transformations of what Mass Media executives would call topical (or ‘niche’) products and services. Each focusing on a single genre of media contents, examples of such services include Pandora, Spotify, and Flipboard. Each of these a highly customized or individuated mix of music or of news to each of their users, according to each user’s interests and tastes. Pandora and Spotify nowadays each have more listeners than any commercial radio station or music network (the sole exception: government-owned China Central Television). Flipboard’s 145 million users number far more (4x) than the readers of any news or features magazine in the world, yet each sees an individuated mix of contents changing daily.
Half of humanity, 3.8 billion people, now use at least one Individuated Media service daily, if not multiple ones many times per day. None of those services existed a generation ago. And most of those billions of people use Individuated Media at the expense of Mass Media products and services, even though those products and services provide some components of Individuated Media contents. Online advertising already comprises the 68% of the $563 billion spent annually on all forms of advertising, and Individuated Media services such as Google and Facebook command more than 60% of that majority of the world’s advertising. Individuated Media aren’t supplemental to Mass Media; instead, Individuated Media is rapidly superseding Mass Media, and not coincidentally much as the Informational Era has been superseding the Industrial Era in the world’s developed countries.
All Individuated Media products & services are entirely dependent upon computer-mediated algorithms, much as almost all aviation nowadays is dependent upon locomotive technologies. While Individuated Media delivers the benefits of better mixes of contents that match each individual’s unique needs, interests, beliefs, and tastes, like most other revolutionary technological advancements, it also creates new risks. Although degrees of serendipity can be built into its algorithms, some of its consumers can use it to omit receiving information that is contrary to their beliefs or prejudices. Editors can no longer set a ‘common agenda’ for the consumers in their community who use it rather than Industrial Era’s legacy Mass Media. Nor can advertisers as easily force ‘eyeballs’ to see their ads as they could with Mass Media. Thus, many of the theories, doctrines, practices, and business models of Individuated Media are different than those of Mass Media, despite many commonalities.
A Tonic for Watching
Among the world’s many companies that are working towards Individuation of news feeds is Canopy, which was recently acquired by Cable News Network (CNN) . Founded in 2018, Canopy’s launched an iPhone app called Tonic, which is now reportedly being wound down. The acquisition is apparently part of a CNN project known as ‘NewsCo’. Tonic used an algorithm which, among other equations, used differential privacy data base mathematics to prevent publisher, broadcasters, and other third-parties from obtaining the topical news choices of Tonic’s individual users, while providing those users with a customized (although not actually fully individuated) feed of news according to their needs, interests, and tastes. What that means is any user could choose which general topics he wanted but that Canopy chose the selection of content providers from which a user can obtain those choices. No one here at IndividuatedMedia.com has any relationships or contact with Canopy or CNN. However, we speculate that CNN will utilize Canopy’s technologies to make CNN the sole content provider and will aim to launch a customized news feed for CNN.com’s users.
‘Echo Chamber’ versus ‘Filter Bubbles’
As Dr. Richard Fletcher, of Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, explains, an ‘echo chamber’ can results when an online user self-selects the websites from which he gets news. However, a ‘filter bubble’ can result when instead an algorithm makes those selections for him: guessing via either programming, ‘machine learning’ artificial intelligence, or a combination of those, what his needs, interests, and tastes are.
That subtle difference will become ever more crucial as the background power (i.e., Moore’s Law) of computing becomes ever more advanced. The user himself is certainly more likely to know his own needs, interests, and tastes, better than any current algorithm can. However, his own self-selections will be more likely to create an ‘echo chamber’ around him. However, algorithmic systems, if they advance at the pace of Moore’s Law (and certainly with the advent of quantum computing) should within the new decade match or even exceed his own capability to match and delivery a mix contents to his needs, interests, and tastes.
Moreover, algorithmic system can be programmed to include some serendipity in the content mix which his own self-selections wouldn’t, possible puncturing or at least somewhat perforating an ‘echo chamber’.
Many, if not most, of the world’s 4.5 billion users of online media probably self-selected news websites when they first went online. However, more than 3 billion of them now use forms of algorithmic websites, mainly search engines and social media, every day. Those algorithmic websites provide each user with an individuated mix of contents programmed to better match that users’ unique mix of needs, interests, and tastes, better than mass media websites can. As the number of individuated media users steadily increases, expect to see few people in echo chambers — although there will always be some; that’s human nature — and more filter bubbles. And let’s hope that those bubbles are fewer and more permeable than echo chambers.
Protected: Individuated Media Conceptual Framework
The Rise of Individuated Media
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Syracuse, New York, USA
Author’s Note: This paper was 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.
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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The fight to control the playlist is a struggle between the group’s happiness and the individual’s
The Atlantic monthly magazine reports how a music individuation app called TouchTunes means the music a person oat a ‘dive bar’ is no longer the same music any other patron at that bar simultaneously hears.
“An app, however, unlike a traditional jukebox, introduces a tension between the cooperative end result and an interface primed to make things personal. Accounts keep a running archive of prior check-ins, plays, and favorited songs, organized in the proprietary folder ‘My Music.’ The app can also sync with users’ Spotify and iTunes accounts. These ‘personalization features,’ says TouchTunes, are intended to ‘combine each user’s play preferences with the venue’s vibe to help users discover the music they have in common with each location.’ The admixture makes itself known in a folder called ‘Hot Songs You Like Too,’ popular songs at a given venue that a user has also favorited. But for the most part, users’ personal tastes outrank whatever ‘vibe’ they’ve checked in to.”
Prologue: The Greatest Change in the History of Media
We live amid the greatest change in the history of media. Its speed, intensity, and magnitude are so enormous that most media executives and media scholars fail – and some even refuse – to recognize the change’s epochal nature. Of those who fail or refuse to see it, most do so because so many of its major aspects contradict the theories or contravene the beliefs upon which they’ve built their careers.
However, as the pace of the change of accelerates, an increasing number of those media executives and scholars have begun to claim that they now do perceive the greatest change. Yet the reality is they don’t. They are instead joining a growing movement of executives and scholars who mistake the traits or characteristics of the greatest change as the change itself.
This movement erroneously believes the greatest change underway in media is that consumers are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. [Or a more recent but parallel misperception: that the greatest change underway is that consumers are simply switching their media consumption from ‘desktop’ to ‘mobile’]. In other words, these executives and scholars believe the greatest change is that people who used to consume news, entertainment, and other information via printed periodicals, television sets, and radio sets, instead are now consuming the same packages of news, entertainment, and information via personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’. This myopic misperception has led these executives and scholars to believe that all the media industries need to do to survive and prosper is to transplant the traditional business models, the traditional content packaging, and the traditional content (albeit with the addition of hyperlinks, audio, video, animation, and other multimedia) into online media accessible by personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’.
This pernicious strategy, based upon a misperception of the change underway, has become responsible for the continuing failure of the world’s media industries to adapt successfully to the epochal change underway. Despite more than ten years of its implementation in post-industrial nations, this strategy, called convergence or ‘digital first’ by its proponents and shovelware by its critics, has demonstrably failed to generate revenue from online that are anywhere equal to those the same companies and industries earned from providing the same contents via traditional forms of media such as printed periodicals and terrestrial or cable broadcasting. Nor has implementation of the strategy created usage of the contents online that has been as frequent or thorough as the contents have in those traditional forms. The results of ‘convergence’ or ‘digital first’ strategy are new media that are less frequently and less thoroughly used and are less profitable than the old media, despite having more users than the old media, are that are cannibalizing old media as more and more users switch to it.
The strategy’s failure flummoxes the executives and the scholars who believe its central assumption that the greatest change underway is people are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’. Nevertheless, rather than question that core assumption, these executives and scholars doggedly continue to pursue implementing the strategy, for lack of any other ideas. They are leading most media industries into catastrophe. They have wasted more than 15 crucial years that could instead have been used to adapt the media industries properly to the epochal change underway. During that lost time, many formerly robust media industries in post-industrial countries have withered, losing significant portions of their audiences (including most of a new generation) and having had to discharge hundreds of thousands of trained media workers (including many tens of thousands of journalists whose investigative and expository reporting is necessary for their nation’s democracies to function properly). The aggregate damages to these industries in some of the post-industrial nations are grave, as well as warnings to the media industries of industrial nations in which the epochal change underway is only now beginning.
The media executives and media scholars who believe that the greatest change underway in media is that consumers are simply switching media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’ figuratively can’t see the forest for the trees. They mistake one of the change’s traits or characteristics as the change itself. It is the stunning conceptual myopia of ‘convergence’ or ‘digital first’ strategy that I address and remedy.
People are indeed switching their media consumption from ‘analog’ to ‘digital’, but not because they find that reading texts, listening to audio, and watching video is easier and more pleasurable via personal computers, tablet computers, and ‘smartphones’ than via printed periodicals or radio receivers or television sets. That’s certainly not why they do it or the greatest change in media. Instead, as I’ve been writing since 2004, the greatest change in the history of media is that, within the span of a single human generation, people’s access to information has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus, even surfeit.
Billions of people whose access a generation ago to daily changing information was at most one, two, or three locally-distributed printed newspapers, one, two, three, or four television channels, and one or two dozen radio stations, can now access virtually all of the world’s news and information instantly at home, office, or wherever they go. The economic, historical, and societal ramifications of this epochal change in media will be far more profound than Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type, Nikola Tesla’s and Guglielmo Marconi’s invention of broadcasting, or any other past development in the history of media.
This epochal change occurred over several waves during a 20 to 40-year period:
- The 1970s brought the first wave: cable television(CATV) followed decades later by satellite television (SATV). People in post-industrial countries who used to have access to no more than three or four television channels gained access to dozens and then hundreds. The defining characteristic of this, as well as the subsequent waves of the change, was not only that it gave those people more choices within a format of media but more specific choices. Almost all of the new channels weren’t general interest or foreign-language but instead topical. If you’re a tennis fan, you no longer have to be satisfied with an occasional report during the one, two, or three original channels’ newscasts or hope that those channels’ weekend sport programs might feature a tennis match. You can now watch entire networks devoted only to sports, including one network entirely devoted to tennis. If you love to cook, you no longer have to wait for a weekend cooking show aired by those few original channels, but you can instead watch four or five new networks each devoted to cooking. Likewise, there are entire television networks each devoted to a specific category such as news, sports, history, biography, cartoons, science, comedy, animals, fashion, science fiction, shopping, etc.
- The 1980s brought the next wave: advances in offset lithography that made publication of topical (‘niche content’) magazines economical. Newsstands that previously sold 20 to 30 magazine titles now sell hundreds, almost all of which are about specific categories or topics. A reader specifically interested in that topic now no longer must 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 3 billion people worldwide have since gained access to nearly 900 million active Web sites. These include virtually all the worlds’ newspapers, magazines, trade journals, broadcast networks and stations, plus Social Media networks, some than 100 million blogs, and innumerable sites about specific topics and topical categories.
- The first decade of the 21st Century brought the next wave: broadband access to consumers in post-industrial countries. The hallmark of this wave of change is instant, ‘always-on’ Internet access. The first decade of the 21st Century brought the majority of Internet users in post-industrial countries broadband speeds, plus mobile access. The hallmark of broadband is instant, ‘always-on’ Internet access, eliminating the need to dialup a telephone line for online access. Although some experts claim the wave which brought the Internet to the public was the most powerful, the broadband wave was deeper and more powerful because it markedly changed how and from whom consumers access news and information. It markedly increased the ease by which those people consume their newfound cornucopia of media, and so reshaped how and from whom they consumed information. It also provided them with ready access to 3,700 TV stations broadcasting online, plus tens of thousands of downloadable movies, and hundreds of millions of professional and amateur video clips.
- Our current decade’s wave will provide all that information to people not just through desktop and laptop computers but via all mobile devices, vehicles, the electronic equivalents of flexible paper, and even television sets. All the new mobile phone handsets are being designed as ‘all-screen’ models with full Internet access. Many top-of-the-line handsets are also being designed to receive streaming video signals (even if only through arrangement between the cellular carrier and television networks). Most people replace their mobile phone handsets every two to three years, which means that by 2017 two and one-third billion people will have Internet access through ‘smartphones’ and that, considering overlap among ‘smartphone’ and personal computer users, some 4 billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people will have Internet access via any type of computerized device. Indeed, that total number could be much closer to 7.5 billion when considering that during 2014 the number of mobile phones in use on Earth exceeded the number of humans. Moreover, all new television sets manufactured by major companies, Sony, Samsung, and LG, have Internet connectivity. By June of 2017, the number of Americans streaming videos online exceeded the number with cable television access Some ‘smartphone’ applications (“apps”) and websites allow online users to access thousands of television stations and tens of thousands of radio stations worldwide, thereby circumventing the limited number of television networks and channels available terrestrially or from local cable television service providers. Many television networks have already begun streaming high definition broadcasts into the Internet in anticipation of this trend. The result of this coming decade’s wave will be that all information in text, audio, and video formats will be instantly available to most of the world’s population wherever they are in the world.
Thus, during the past 30 to 40 years the cumulative effect of these waves of technological change is that most of humanity access to news and information is changing from scarcity to surfeit. As examples, a Xhosa tribesman in South Africa with a Vodacom HTC Magic mobile handset has instant access to more information than the President of the United States did at the time of the tribesman’s birth; so does a Bolivian girl to whose school has been donated refurbished Macintosh computers; so does a Mongolian plumber who bought a Lenovo netbook for his son’s education. Today, more than 3 billion people can instantly obtain more information than could be contained in the ancient library of Alexandria, the Renaissance Era library of the Vatican, and the modern Library of Congress combined.
Gutenberg’s invention of the moveable type printing press some 570 years ago had profound effects upon civilization. Within 50 years of that invention, ten million books had been printed and distributed throughout Europe. However, the historical and societal effects of Gutenberg’s invention pall when compared to what has happened during the past 50 years: most of the world’s population has had their access to information change from relative scarcity to instant and pervasive surplus. This is not only the greatest development in media since Gutenberg’s press, it is the greatest media development in history. The greatest change in media history.