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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What if free media isn't the future? What if it's a dead end?

Two interesting pieces of media futurology. The fact that they're both written by people who used to be in senior positions at the Guardian makes them even more interesting.

Emily Bell, who used to be in charge of the Guardian's digital assets, wonders if the days of newspaper websites might be numbered.  As she says, there may not be much room for them in a media market that increasingly "tolerates the micro, favours the mega and rolls over most entities inbetween."

At the same time Peter Preston, who used to be the Guardian's editor, is sceptical of The Independent's claim that their move to digital-only means they'll be "as focussed and uncompromised as any start-up but with all the authority and trust of an established news brand." As he points out, the start-ups don't try to do all the stuff that the newspapers have traditionally had to do to justify the costs of the package.

When those papers moved online they brought the elements of the package with them. Sections devoted to opinion, sport, music, films and think pieces about Breaking Bad expanded to fill the space available to them, which was suddenly limitless. The BBC did something similar, albeit their commitment to even-handedness meant they weren't much good at the comment. At the same time the borderless world of the internet meant that the fluff being done by the U.S. papers and websites was suddenly just as accessible as the home-grown fluff. We now live in a world where if you want to know what columnists thinks about what Lena Dunham said about what Kesha said about Dr Luke then you could spend your every waking hour reading that and nothing but that.

This century's fluff explosion was bankrolled by newspapers in the belief that it would be followed by advertising. Now they've realised it won't be. Paywalls are going up everywhere. Newspapers are closing. At the same time even the BBC is having to cut back on some of its fluffier website content.

I wonder if in a few years time this Niagara of free stuff will have been turned off and we'll realise that it only came to pass during a brief window when the people who produced it thought there was some benefit in giving it away. Free wasn't the inevitable way of the future. It was a dead end.



6 comments:

  1. This was the scene when the London Paper and the Evening Standard went head to head wasn't it. The Standard gave itself away, the competition eventually collapsed and ES had dead-ended itself by not being able to revert to charging...

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  2. "I wonder if in a few years time this Niagara of free stuff will have been turned off and we'll realise that it only came to pass during a brief window when the people who produced it thought there was some benefit in giving it away."

    Which applies equally, of course, to those who are writing it for nothing. Presumably in the belief that it will 'lead to something'. That, too, may soon be revealed as a dead end.

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  3. Expand the 'people who are writing for nothing' concept and include 'people who are making/performing music for nothing (and often subsidising it from actual income streams)'. I'm all in favour of people creating and performing original music without financial rewards being the goal, but eventually all those people spending sacrificial time slogging around in vans, playing gigs, getting to bed at 3am, and having a fiver in their pocket or, worse, having had to subsidise it with a chip-shop job or whatever else will begin to realise that the old-school model of the path to music business success is so massively diminished now, if not non-existent, that they really would be better off just doing a day and playing in a covers band for fun at the weekend.

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  4. I accept that I’m deeply daft, and as a result, often confused. Mister Harper’s second paragraph begins by being in favour of people playing music for very little or no financial reward; it ends by saying they will eventually realise that this is no longer much a route to success. It’s a bit long so I’m sure it’s me who’s misunderstood. Anyway, although there’s no way of knowing, I suspect most are already aware and accept it. And have always been so.

    Back in the long ago I was part of a beat combo; two actually, one a quartet, the other a quintet. Although we had dreams our aim was to have some fun and hopefully subsidise the fun with a few bob from gigs; which we did. Job done.

    A bit of icing was the quintet trudging a few steps further and managing a recording test/audition at EMI’s Manchester Square. No contract came out of it, but we didn’t fail. Rather, we achieved the grand status of deferred success.

    We also had a good time seeing The Action and The Bo Street Runners at the Marquee, the Five Proud Walkers at the 100 Club and visiting Wallace Amplifiers somewhere in Soho. The real highlight though was a Sandie Shaw photo-shoot on Carnaby Street.
    Heady days.

    We’re scattered here and there these many years, but even half a century down the road I think we’re still hoping the deferment will be lifted.

    I’m sure we’re not alone with that feeling.

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  5. You lived through the glory days Rod! But I was talking about relatively young artists in the here and now. Honestly, I DO know some people with unrealistic expectations or aspirations, who get on like it's 1970 and the Chairman of EMI only has to hear their demo and the Rolls will arrive.

    I love seeing bands playing - blues, jazz, bluegrass, Irish trad, original rock - but luckily most of my favourite local bands/musicians in Belfast are able to juggle tuition/wedding gigs etc with playing original or otherwise creative music in viable bursts here and there, usually operating on a cottage industry basis.

    I was in no way criticising people who play live music and help make life so much richer for the rest of us, Rod - sorry if that's what came across! I just feel sorry for (and a bit baffled about) those people who still think the equivalent of an audition at Manchester Square still exists.

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  6. Just re Planet Mondo comment above

    ' This was the scene when the London Paper and the Evening Standard went head to head wasn't it. The Standard gave itself away, the competition eventually collapsed and ES had dead-ended itself by not being able to revert to charging... '

    The London Paper was launched by Murdoch as a spoiler to the Mail's freesheet London Lite. Once the Lite had been squashed, the London Paper was quietly closed.

    The Eve Std, like Time Out, had to go free as last ditch attempt to stave off closure. By all accounts both are profitable. Seems like Metro, 'free' is still easier to make work with a tangible product.




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