Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Where are the young entrepreneurs pointing the way? They can't all be writing columns

The trade magazine Media Week closed this week. It was started by friends of mine twenty-five years ago. This being an average week in the midst of media meltdown the story of its closure was bundled in with arguments about the Times paywall or the BPI's attempt to disconnect file sharers to form the narrative of the hour. The narrative of the hours broadly goes like this. The old fools of traditional media are tearing around trying to plug the holes in the hull of their sinking ship while enormously clever commentators, of whom there appear to be an unlimited supply, point out that what they're doing is inappropriate, inadequate and too late.

I'm beginning to find the commentariat more wanting than the dinosaurs they come to mock. At least said dinosaurs are saying 'we don't know how things are going to work out but we know we can't go on giving everything away'. The commentariat, on the other hand, seem to be saying 'we don't know how things are going to work out but we know that whatever you decide is definitely wrong. Meanwhile, keep giving everything away and, er, something will turn up.'

That's fine in principle. People committed to change have always pointed out the shortcomings of the powers that be. The difference this time is the new generation have no skin in the game. They're all either working for monopolies or charities or making their living peddling their blithe certainties to confused companies. They have no personal investment in the future. Indeed the thing they have a huge investment in is the present uncertainty. If they were realy confident the future was going to work out the way they predict they wouldn't be wasting their time trying to preach about it. They'd be out there starting the News Internationals and Dreamworks and EMIs of the future. But they're not. That's the one thing missing in this present uncertainty - examples of small independents doing things in a completely new way. And making money by doing it.


  1. MattWalsh11:57 am


    I'm always amazed by the number of people who seem to come out of the woodwork on the Guardian's website to proclaim that the media "Just doesn't get it".

    Presumably what those old media fools do get is that they're losing money and the end result of that is bankruptcy and that it might, just possibly, be a good idea to try and prevent that...

  2. The thing is, how do you know that some people aren't out there starting up the big corps of the future?

    Almost by definition, they'll be 'under the radar' at the moment, just doing their thing in a way that doesn't fit the current dominant paradigm, so nobody notices them. Maybe they're not making money yet, but some of them probably will, and in a way that most of us haven't yet thought of.

    You can't pick the winners in advance, you can only do it retrospectively.

    Some of these people may also be the same people who are writing the comments and columns, but I doubt there is much overlap.

    But no, I don't have any specific examples either :-)

  3. Totally agree. We tried with Messy Media last year, and it was bad timing. But one thing that struck me was how hard it was to get new writers. Most new writers still seemed to focus on working for newspapers or the BBC. They weren't thinking as entrepreneurs, they were thinking like old-school journos who wanted to climb the career ladder somewhere with a pension scheme and a tolerant attitude to Friday lunchtimes. We weren't offering that. We were offering uncertainty, excitement, creativity and the chance to make a name. Wasn't enough. Ah well.

  4. Heartbreakingly true. If you google New Business Models for Media you get 175 million hits. The pundits are consistent: Old media must embrace the "new model". As pundits, we're not actually embracing it ourselves because, well, we'd be really busy and we wouldn't have the time to tell everyone else to embrace it. Like...

  5. Lloydshep,

    "We were offering uncertainty, excitement, creativity and the chance to make a name. Wasn't enough. Ah well."

    But were you offering money?

  6. Graeme - yes, of course. Not a lot. But not a paltry amount either.

  7. Paul K9:42 pm


    "Most new writers still seemed to focus on working for newspapers or the BBC. They weren't thinking as entrepreneurs"

    Why the hell should they? That's why they're writers, and NOT entrepreneurs. If they wanted to make money, they might as well make widgets.

    Would you criticise Alan Bennett, or Martin Amis, for not thinking like entrepreneurs?

  8. Alan Bennett and Martin Amis are not entrepreneurs but they both have a very highly developed sense of the market and who they can sell to. That's why Amis signed a record-breaking deal with his publishers and why Bennett deals with the National Theatre and the BBC and hardly anyone else. They know they have something that they can sell within a very tightly defined market. Journalists have traditionally sold their work to newspapers. If the newspapers go they're going to have to somehow sell the work themselves. I have yet to meet one who seems prepared for that.

  9. And while we're at it, Amis and Bennett are not the best examples here because they're both very well off indeed and probably wish to remain so. As David Geffen said many years ago, "I've met lots of people and Bob Dylan is just as interested in money as everyone else."

  10. skirky3:34 am

    Not really 'closed' though, has it? Just 'stopped printing'. Or "entered the chrysalis stage" as one media chum of mine would have it. He doesn't mean the record label. I asked him. Boy do some people get snippy at dinner parties.

  11. Stef Galley10:50 am

    I'm shocked at the amount of young people out there who now just believe it's their right to receive media and music for free.

    This blog offers an interesting counter-opinion and I think it represents really accurately how a great deal of people feel today about buying media/music -

  12. We are in a transition period where the old ways of working are fading and a new industry is being built. We can't ignore the fact that a generation is growing up only ever knowing the Internet age - a time of fast, free media.

    The solution had to be that big media works with independents and individuals to create a new model for news and entertainment.

    As an independent musician who runs a small record label, my primary intention has always been to make great music and share it with as large an audience as possible. For many, the intention is only to "make money". Perhaps this disconnect is why many find the opportunities of the new industry difficult.

  13. Melnyk
    I know what you mean but at what point do we concede that this "transition period" has gone on long enough? Among the independent musicians that I have dealings with the mood has changed from optimism as they discovered that it was possible to deal direct with the public to disappointment and annoyance as they discovered how much work was involved in this and for what little reward. Admittedly the pioneers will not be huge companies (big media's problem at the moment is that big is no longer an advantage) but nor will you create a brave new media economy out of one-man businesses.

  14. Anonymous4:19 pm

    As an independent musician, I concede wholeheartedly that the transition period has gone on plenty long.

    But conceding that, and having the transition period end are two different things.

    Bloody progress.

    Or should that be 'bloody entropy'?

  15. He's hardly a *young* entrepreneur, but Leo Laporte's recent speech is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it already.

    Not a model that's easily replicable (if it's replicable at all), but you can't argue with what he's achieved: