“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.]