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Media: Friendship and the Business Model

September 6, 2010

Newspapers should think about us, their audience, in terms of friendship rather than in terms of consumption. I believe that will make a big difference. The Internet has opened an opportunity for sharing and has closed the gap of time and space. These new dynamics need to be understood in wider contexts. New technologies have changed the business model of the music, news and any other media industry. Internet and mobile media are playing a defining role in the realization of new strategies for monetizing media production. However, there are different threats that stifle this possibility.

According to Jon Ippolito in his lecture in the Art & Technology Lecture series at Columbia University, new groups such as musicians, artists, activists and programmers

“… depend on easy access to each other’s time and labor. Entrenched media monopolies, on the other hand, aren’t interested in frictionless networks; their business model is based on maximizing the points of contact. Whenever a musician pays the producer, a producer pays the publisher, or a publisher pays rights holders, there’s a lawyer with his hand out skimming cash from the exchange. In fact, the more friction in that exchange, the more money lawyers make–a fact you know if you’ve ever worked with lawyers in a negotiation.”

Following Ippolito’s argument, this new stage where consumers were aware of the possibility of acquiring music, news, movies and so on for free, and where media companies were seeking to maintain their profit levels through lawsuits against any attempt of creating any sort of independent distribution system, evidenced two important outcomes.

First, technology started to offer technical resources to create photos, texts, blogs, private radio shows (podcasting) and videos. This, combined with the internet, PCs and less expensive and user-friendlier media, opened the gates for experimental and amateur producers.

Second, big corporations needed to access these new forms of distribution to keep the grip on business. Thus, the NASDAQ crash in 2000 was the perfect opportunity for media companies to offer funding or content licenses to start-ups in exchange for equity. Big corporations obtained internet distribution infrastructure below the market value and also saved costs in research and development.

To understand these two opposite results some academics state that existing media have differentiated the delivery of technologies and by so doing have formed central constraints on the consumption patterns. Nevertheless, a new type of content, or what some call digitized information, enabled the transmission among common channels through common reception technologies.

In this turmoil, both consumers and producers commenced to change their roles by adopting a less static position within the economy of the music and news production for instance. Lower production and distribution costs originated new delivery channels, and enabled consumers to archive, appropriate, produce, mix and circulate media content in powerful ways. The term ‘prosumer’ was coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980 in his attempt to visualized the society in the long-term. This is a paradoxical word since it breaks the capitalist definitions of consumer and producer. Likewise, this new character (prosumer) represented the major change in the applicability of media. These changes gave consumers the power to convert personal media into mass media.

The center for future civic media at MIT has been working on its project Open Park: A Model for Collaborative Online News Production

“As newsrooms across the country and beyond are grappling with the new economic realities of reduced budgets and news media professionals are busy drafting and testing plans for new models of news production and distribution, the little-explored practice of ‘Don’t compete, collaborate!’ is well worth considering.”

I argue that we need to take this philosophy farther, not only collaboration but friendship and really make an effort in understanding what is happening with the internet and mobile media. We need to create spaces for participation and create this link of friendship and collaboration between audiences and news organizations.

If news outlets manage to do that, the voluntary payment will make much more sense. Would you download the first released album of your very talented friend for free even if you can? given that its good “stuff” wouldn’t you pay for it?

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