Like many industries, print media was slow to adapt to the realities of the internet age. Even now many of the giants of the media world are wrestling with fundamental issues about how to remain profitable and competitive: income streams, distribution channels, reader relationships, content quality, and volume.
There are success stories. New firms who have understood what the new world means and built a business on it. But even they, lean, multi-channel, and socially-distributed, feel like interim steps. Iterations of what went before, not fully realised examples of what will be.
Exploding the media business
Imagine a magazine or newspaper business fully exploded into its component parts: information gathering, verification, content synthesis, quality control, curation, and distribution. Plus of course, the vital function of income generation. Now consider, each of those functions as a standalone function:
- Information gathering: The internet brings us text, video, audio and documents from almost every corner of the earth.
- Verification: Imagine an algorithm that could parse information and assess its validity based on the history of that source and corroboration. Imagine every meme that hits your inbox with a trust rating.
- Synthesis: Every human being in the developed world now has the tools to produce content, and if they lack the skills, they can access endless education materials to improve them.
- Quality control: Tools like Grammarly are getting ever smarter about telling us how to write well
- Curation: Tools like Feedly and Flipboard have been allowing us to curate our own newspapers for a while now. Tools like Buffer streamline and even automate the curation of our own news feeds.
- Distribution: solved by open publishing platforms, search, and social engines
- Income: programmatic advertising and paywalls with ever-lower friction
Now consider how many people might be required to build a media empire in a semi-automated future leveraging these tools. We already have super-powered YouTubers, most of whom leverage other channels. Take them to the next level: multi-channel media moguls with the clout to spur sales and shape markets.
Today the YouTubers typically parlay their success into engagement with more traditional media and brands hungry for the association. But it’s easy to foresee a time when these influencers are the media. When newspaper brands are just aggregations of the best bloggers on a shared political platform. When the radio-to-podcast path is fully reversed and radio just becomes the curation of podcasts.
Engaging tomorrow’s media
This has huge implications for an industry I’m looking at now for a potential project: PR. Most PR agencies also missed the digital transition. Many are still reliant on their relationships with the traditional media for their income. Few know how to value non-traditional influencers, let alone engage with them. I know this because, on a small scale, I am one. Take, for example, the rash of emails I received on Monday offering me comment off the back of a BBC Breakfast story about ransomware. None of them seemed to notice (and they certainly didn’t reference) that I was the expert interviewed for the story, despite the BBC sharing video of me across social channels alongside the TV appearance.
As our diversity principle* suggests, the future of the media is not only these super-influencers: it will be an increasingly diverse space. But that only complicates the picture for both the brands trying to survive today and the businesses trying to engage with them tomorrow.
Now is the time to start thinking.