Is News “Too Cheap to Meter”?Posted: August 14, 2009
(cc) Flickr user sashafatcat
I’m not an economist. I’m going to start right now with that point. I took AP Econ like, nine years ago. I did fine, but, I’m in communications for a reason. I did get one basic principle: supply and demand. Lots of one product, and the demand for it is low.
So, with that waiver, I’m going to try my best. Before moving forward too quickly, let’s assume this: not all content – media that can be defined as 1) intellectually developed 2) created and original, not excluding fair-use modifications and 3) potentially portable – is created equal. There is a wide range of production from John Woo to your cell phone’s camera. Most “content” is somewhere between there.
Some content is scarce: the hundred million dollar budget movie, for example. I’m not talking about that stuff from here on out. I am talking about a magical place where the barrier to entry is so low that it creates a flood of potential players: the Internet.
I just finished Chris Anderson’s Free and I thought it was an incredible overview of what drives and creates a “Free-conomy.” I’m dwelling on one thing the most a day later. Anderson talked about the rate at which certain things get cheap – transistors, metals, etc. – as we find more efficient ways to create them. The decline is steep and exponential. At some point, you realize you can keep shrinking the price, but the nanocents just aren’t worth collecting and it rounds down to zero. It’s just “too cheap to meter.”
Based on that idea: is news – observational information summarized into a story to increase awareness – too cheap to meter?
In the last decades, we found a more efficient way to get information out than newsprint and printing presses. We found a cheaper way than satellites. We found a bottomless pit of a news room staff. It’s damn near free to create. All of these forces equalize the value of the words in each article, Tweet, blog post, and the like. Therefore, it is up to the reader to determine the content’s validity – a frighteningly scary thought for those who love fact checkers – and *gasp* it’s authority based on how much they trust the source. The creator of the content, actually, in effect the producer, does not determine the value.
It is so abundant that it can’t be controlled from above, and its value is already being measured by the user. There is no opportunity cost for content other than time.
So, yes, general news and information is too cheap to meter.
Perceived, user-generated authority is more powerful than any ounce of user-generated content. Once the audience sets how much they are willing to pay for something – time, money, or any other resource (which, in the age of the link economy, includes the respect of URL) – there’s no turning back. The massive online portals did not have an institution to rest on to build a reputation, they had to earn it the hard way in an unbelievably competitive world. And some – not all of them – did.
Newspapers want to be branded from their top mastheads, yet they want to label the bloggers from the bottom denominator. That’s (a) unfair and (b) not their fault. It’s the product of ancient, hierarchy thinking that doesn’t fit in when the economy isn’t set by revenue but by other forms of recompense.
When the barrier of entry is low, nearly everyone who wants a seat at the table gets one; but the smart host only pays attention to the smart people. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t impossible to get invited, though. The information flows regardless of who’s being paid attention to, and that means that if someone decides they want to be exclusive, someone else can jump in quite easily.
So – the news isn’t what you monetize. That horse is well beyond the stable. Content is intellectual, portable and original. Stick to that last one and you’ll see just what to serve.