THE FUTURE OF THE "WRITTEN WORLD"

What the Web Really Means for Writers, Readers, and SEM
By Jake Aull   7/1/2008

SHOCKING NEWS!! According to a recent Advertising Age article, it's “...the end of all print ...the end of media civility ...the end of journalism in general.”1 With 1.2 billion global PC users, and 1 billion mobile phone internet users, it is clear that news and other information delivery has crossed a threshold of change.2, 3 To meet our every whim, information about anything and everything is now online and usually free. "A decade and a half into the great online experiment, the last debates over free versus pay online are ending. In 2007 The New York Times went free; this year, so will much of The Wall Street Journal.”4 In fact, "the collateral damage has gotten egregious enough to prompt Google ...to say ...that it's a 'moral imperative' ...to help newspapers.”5

How did we arrive at this new economic model? Much of it is marketing strategies from consumer behavior. "Give a product away and it can go viral. Charge a single cent... and you're in an entirely different business... clawing... for every customer. The huge [consumer] psychological gap between 'almost zero' and 'zero' is why micropayments failed. It's why modern Web companies don't charge their users anything.”4 Marketers are then forced to continually solve related strategic challenges, "...Nobody's going to pay for content anymore, so you have to give it away and figure out how to merchandise and monetize everything that surrounds the content.”1

Even in this era of boundless internet information and journalistic freedom, there are still efforts to limit it - whether for financial or other reasons. Recently, on Russian TV show The People Want to Know, a liberal economist was digitally erased for his opinions.6 And the Associated Press this June "...pulled a very 1990s move by ordering one Web site to take down quoted excerpts of AP's news stories, eliciting a predictable chorus of outrage from the blogosphere.”5 With their future at stake, journalists may not be able to afford angering consumers.

As global consumers prefer more web publishing, a new breed of providers rises to deliver. The web's customized information delivery means that savvy search engine marketers now connect content to readers, contrary to traditional channels of printers, publishers and vendors. In fact Google is 10 years old now, with roughly 600 million unique global visitors a month.7 The most-consumed, search engine-delivered content can be expected from those buying ad keywords and those writing specifically for unpaid search results and recommendation listings. "Each advertiser is a self-interested party interacting with all other advertisers who bid on the same keywords. I think that recommendation systems are going to be as important as search algorithms ...recommendation systems that preserve the properties [wanted] most."8 Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that our reading would be determined by algorithms, "Mathematics, after all, is supposed to be the most universal aspect of human civilization... nothing is more timeless than number...”9

But does this change the “art” of literature and journalism? Does it affect us, and our minds, as global, daily information absorbers? “Brains... evolve through natural selection... Our own insights into abstract truth may be marginal to survival - obscured... by more pressing issues.”10 The information age appeases us with content and delivery never before possible. But such a major shift in daily global consumption must affect change upon the consumers as well. Through blogs and other user content, the information becomes more interactive. At the same time, the market impact of "free" content reduces the amount of paid, qualified, global journalists and authors.

Every change requires sacrifice. Although worldwide readers don't yet seem concerned, an aging print medium may take too much with it to the grave. I for one, am not proud of Advertising Age's Simon Dumenco's predictions of "...the rise of millions of ...semi-pro opinionists," and  "...the end of paid content, period."1 When writers loose, I believe that we the readers do as well.

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Works Cited

1. Simon Dumenco, "Th-th-th-that's all folks! No more talk of media end-times," Advertising Age 23 Jun 2008: 48.

2. Theresa Howard, “USA lags on cellphones’ marketing potential,” USA Today 18 Jun 2008

<http://www.usatoday.com/money/advertising/2008-06-18-cannes-mobile-marketing_N.htm>.

3. Mark Williams, “The State of the Global Telecosm in 2008,” Technology Review May-Jun 2008: 85.

4. Chris Anderson, "Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business," Wired Magazine Mar. 2008

<http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free?currentPage=all>.

5. Jon Fine, "Redirecting the Web's News Stream," Businessweek 30 Jun 2008: 73.

6. Nick Holdsworth, "Russian TV guest does a quick fade," Variety 16-22 Jun 2008: 4.

7. Quentin Hardy and Evan Hessel, “GooTube,” Forbes 16 Jun. 2008: 52.

8. Jennifer Chayes, Interview, Technology Review Jun 2008: 40.

9. Jim Holt, "Why Laughing Matters - Numbers and laughter will last a million years," Discover Jul 2008: 68.

10. Zalmen Rosenfeld, "Feeling and Form - From Plato to Penrose, the music is the message," Harper's Magazine Jun 2008: 92.

 

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