Friday, November 20, 2009

The Coming Media Boom

Amid all the havoc and pain in our business, I'm going to make a bold prediction: Over the next three years, we're going to witness one of the biggest booms in media ever. It will occur not in print, of course, but in the online world. And it will largely be fueled by forced media entrepreneurs, laid off writers and editors, lower barriers to entry, and the opportunity for tens of thousands of well-trained journalists to create something of value that they can run and own.

That old line about freedom of press belonging only to those who own a press is just that--old. For years now, pretty much anyone who has access to a computer and the Internet owns a press. But there was still a missing ingredient: vast numbers of journalists with the courage and the skill to use the Net to do their own thing. That's much less true today because of the layoffs of tens of thousands of highly qualified writers and editors who have been thrown out on the street by their dying employers. Many of them will not be able to find jobs in the field; they'll have to invent their jobs and that will result in this new media boom.

This generation of skilled unemployed has a few other things going for itself.

1) First-mover advantage is no advantage at all. We've now seen a number of successful web models, from Drudge and the Huffington Post, to the rise of an ecosystem of news generators in many cities and regions around the country. Followers have significant competitive advantages over first movers because they can learn from their mistakes and they can take advantage of better and cheaper technology. Today there are many more open source (low-cost and easy-to-use) options for would-be entrepreneurs to exploit. There were dozens of search engines before Google, but it took a follower to master the search market. There also were dozens of MP3 players before the iPod. Now is the time to follow the early pioneers.

2) Labor is cheap and the monopolists are dying. As the traditional winners of our business continue to die, there will be lots of opportunities for new low-cost models run by smart, highly motivated people--and there will be many vacuums to fill online. As bad as the past three years have been in our business, the next three will be positively brutal. Take a look at this chart that illustrates the staggering decline of magazine publishing income over the past decade but also gives you a glimpse of the opportunity today.

3) Despite the proliferation of blogs and websites, we're only at the very beginning of a media revolution. Many of these new ventures in the coming media boom will fail. After all, the odds are always against the entrepreneur. But many of them will succeed and change the game.


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