In a recent issue of the New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell took Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of the seminal bestselling book The Long Tail, to the woodshed over his new book, Free.
Put in incredibly simplistic terms, Anderson asserts that publishers and journalists will have to accept the inexorable crash of today’s content paradigm as it morphs into entirely free—loose in the digital universe, for nothing. Anderson goes on to posit that journalists may well need to reconsider their occupation, as an avocation!
In the new normal, publishers will not pay writers for their work. Those very same publishers will have to find other ways to “fund” their enterprise, as charging for content becomes passé.
Gladwell does a surgical job of reducing the book to its flawed premise. All content will not be free, although today’s observation suggests it’s trending precisely that way. The jury remains out on how this will all play out. Let it be said that those who control the release of content have not done themselves any favors to date.
My difficulty with Anderson’s assertion, and other talking techno-heads, is their tired “Woodstock” ethos, rooted in the idea that most traditional paradigms will collapse and be devoured in the digital egalitarian utopia.
Just because traditional content businesses have decided to ride the tech wave, absent of many meaningful or monetizable applications, doesn’t mean that Anderson’s scenario is inevitable. Indeed, technology itself will likely provide solutions for content to command asset value. Content of all sort, e.g., news, magazine feature, books, music, etc.
In the end, it’s those who control the content who control their destiny. People have demonstrated they will pay for the good stuff if that’s their only choice. For content providers and managers, their job is to make it so.