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Approaching Inversion · Thursday November 12, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

Steve Outing’s article So what exactly is newspaper web ‘premium’ content? Please tell me has generated some interesting discussion relating to the two quests I see these days:

  1. Individual artists/journalists seeking a new source of commission
  2. Dinosaur publishers seeking the philosopher’s stone (the fabled business model that enables them to continue selling that which people can make themselves for nothing).

I describe it as a paradigm inversion: Your readers pay you to write. You don’t charge your readers to read.

Thus the nimble and mammalian journalists will inexorably realise that their future customers and commissioners are their readers, and the dinosaurs will create walled gardens in a futile attempt to charge readers to read – slowly suffocating through a lack of the oxygen of publicity.

In the following comments in the context of newspapers, it’s interesting to see our language (cf Bill Garber) converging, and yet I suspect it remains polarised on either side of the paradigm inversion. So it may well be that the inversion, when it happens is hardly noticed. The Earth’s magnetic field may flip, but we’ll simply change the labels on all the magnets and compasses, so that magnetic north remains where we’re comfortable for it to remain.

What were once thought of as members or subscribers1 charged for access to an exclusive club, will become sponsors or patrons willingly contributing to the funding of the public works that they’re interested in – a relationship that all are encouraged to form. From being ‘charged for access’ to ‘paying for publication’. Instead of the audience coming to the circus and paying to see the performance, the audience pays the circus to broadcast the performance.

  • What has enabled and caused this change? The Internet.

From having to visit a single location to buy tickets, or purchase a single copy as both product and ticket, the global audience can now purchase tickets at home, and see the performance at home.

The problem is that inversion, the reversal of power roles. The vendor is no longer the only one with the illusion of control. Tomorrow the customers are also blessed with that conceit. The customers unwittingly self-organise into a body that commissions the vendor’s production. The same product is made, the same money changes between the same hands. However, the public is no longer subject to the publishers’ will. It’s the scary situation where both have something the other wants, but a new more equitable deal has to be made where both sides recognise the other as their equal.

The customer is no longer a submissive cow to be milked, where art and news are continually substituted with lower grade filler or content until it ends up being fed with its own offal and faeces.

The artist and journalist is also no longer a captive attraction in a theme park where a robber baron charges saps for access and erases their cameras on exit. It would be wise to consider the inversion where the customer is in the castle that is their home and charges the artist and journalist their labour for access (this ties in with Bill Densmore’s ‘attention’). If you’re an artist or journalist then you’ll be nimble enough to leave the theme park and allow your services to visit the customers interested in purchasing them. If you’re a theme park owner you’re in trouble. You may well believe that salvation lies in making your attractions ever more irresistible, and ever more secret and secure behind ever higher walls, but then there’s not much I can suggest that fits that niche except virtual prostitution. Even massive multiplayer games can operate with free spectators.

It’s a hard enough task trying to persuade artists to leave the meagre security of their captors and deal directly with their audiences, but they’re going to have to do it sooner or later, as their fourth estate crumbles into ruin about them and ceases its ability to provide shelter or serve as an effective marketplace.

The paradigm inversion is underway. Relationships are changing. Solutions are being developed. Pioneers are exploring them. Thousands of flowers will bloom (even if as yet we see only a few pretty daisies in a flower pot). Doc Searls was among the first to recognise and understand this revolution, and he is not charging for access to an exclusive club. Everyone is free to join the cluetrain. For some earlier discussion re Emancipay (formerly PayChoice), see PayChoice for Newspapers. And everything else that’s free.

____________________

1 ‘Subscriber’ once meant ‘underwriter, pledgor, contributor or patron’, and that’s a definition it will soon revert to from the one its had for the last three centuries: ‘one regularly charged for use, access to, or a copy of, a publication or broadcast service’. Just as the magnetic pole can flip, so can the meanings of our words. ‘Subscriber’ last inverted in meaning when copyright was enacted in 1710 – from a dominant commissioner to one who submits to a charge. (qv Assurance contracts).



 

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