We’re heading for more of the same, only faster. The old gatekeepers–the publishers who owned printing presses and broadcast towers–are being squeezed from two sides. Individuals now create far more content, whether on blogs, Craigslist, Instagram, Rapgenius, Wikipedia or Youtube–than traditional publishers. And people increasingly rely on peer judgments–via the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Google– rather than consuming what publishers and broadcasters can afford to serve them.
Publishers are starting to realise that the game is now “out there” and not inside their walled gardens. Readers want to be catered to via the platform or functionality of their choice. In short, if tweets are the new headlines, then retweeters are the new editors.
So what about print? The other day I heard a management consultant say, in all seriousness, that “print will survive because we need something to read while the jet is taking off.” A narrow niche indeed, and probably too narrow. Sadly, the looming collapse of print hurts more than those who own printing presses–many studies indicate that people remember more from the printed page than the screen. So maybe printed objects will stage a comeback as a status fetish among connoisseurs, just as vinyl has for music records. I doubt we’ll see a proximity print-on-demand boom… who wants to buy more printer cartridges?
Looking at media five years ahead, I take a Marxist view: the means of production and consumption will continue to dictate the shape of our knowledge and interactions. And the main factors of production will be labour–which means there will be increasing employment of people who create content in finer and finer niches. And finer and finer technology, with microqualities that meet niche demands, such as a device that allows you instantly to glean and share your favourite pullquotes– a perfect device for a journal such as the OECD Observer!
But let’s recall how this model of media history has played out online to date. Starting more than a decade ago, blogs excelled because they were the first content format to fully embody the qualities that distinguish the web from print: easy publishing, plentiful linking to other web sources, infinite page scrolling, and a constant streaming information for readers craving news and excitement throughout the workday which they could comment on directly. More recently, Twitter and Instagram have exploded because they’re perfectly configured for creating, sharing and consuming snack-size content on smartphones.
Even Google is being squeezed, not by the sheer volume of content, but by the number of new modes of cyber activity– likes, retweets, shares–which create a universe of online conversations that lie beyond the reach of Google’s robots.
Next up, the tablet. In the next decade we’ll see one or more of the tablet’s unique qualities–its large-yet-portable form factor, swipability, and bed-side convenience –fertilise some amazing new tools or knowledge formats.
That new micro-targeting technology to grab out pull quotes will help journalists and researchers for instance. If pushed, I’d bet on something like DoodleorDie, which is a drawn variation on the old parlour game Exquisite Corpse.
And history won’t end with the tablet. Ten years from now smartphones and tablets will have been replaced by some new configuration of form, factor and functionality, and we’ll see the emergence of entirely new media configurations and idioms, to fill those vessels.
Copeland, Henry (2012), “Blogonomics, ten years on”, available at Blogads.com, May 28.
©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012