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Change is always good news…

The times are indeed changing. The great thing about change is that it is inevitable, incontrovertible and most importantly of all, essential.

So the season of change is upon the publishing industry, and the quarter most affected by this renewed change is that of the purveyors of news:

“When Web users wanted to carve up CDs and pay by the song, the music industry initially balked. But now that Netizens want the same thing from newspapers, magazines, and research reports, Web publishers are only too happy to oblige.”

A choice free of restriction and full of options is the place we’re going.

And the music industry is the template of this new à la carte mentality, with the internet as the infrastructure through which this embarrassment of options is delivered.

I must confess, to the likes of me, this kind of thing has been a long time in coming:

“Breaking up the pieces opens up a whole new audience — think of a college student writing a term paper or an independent consultant working on a project. ‘It’s becoming a way, not even to buy articles, but facts and pieces. The chunks are getting smaller and smaller,’ says Chuck Richard, vice-president and lead analyst of Outsell, a research firm focusing on Web publishing. ‘It’s not going to be here this year or next year, but we do see it coming, and this is a step in that direction.’

It may be scary to some, but smart publishers realize they don’t have much choice. The fact is, readers are changing their news-gathering habits. People who get their news online are increasingly getting it in chunks, rather than reading one paper or magazine cover-to-cover.”

The main source of news still remains the printed editions. But in time, these hard-format news sources will either diminish or themselves become subject to the choice people demand.

But how? How could a newspaper produce myriad editions of a newspaper to cater to each different taste in news?

Well, maybe you need to thank Xerox for all of the fine work they’re doing to make such things as electronic paper a reality.

As an example, anyone who has seen the Stephen Spielberg film, Minority Report may remember a scene on the train where a guy reading a newspaper gets an update of the latest news and sees our protagonist, Chief John Anderton; played by Tom Cruise, as a man on the run, wanted by the police.

Might sound like the start of a joke, but what do you get if you cross wireless technology, micro-payment e-commerce and electronic paper?

And the answer is far from funny, but it’s got a great punch line: your news wherever and whenever you like.

But we have a battle on our hands, and to be perfectly honest, this battle can only be a good thing because I find myself suddenly reminded that war is the mother of all invention.

When the likes of Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and MSN do battle for the right to supply you with specialized, specific news stories, we the consumer will benefit from a veritable information arms race.

But there are still real hurdles to overcome:

“To make this work smoothly, publishers will need to figure out how much consumers are willing to pay for a single story, table, or chart. Unlike the 99-cent-per-song charge that the music industry settled on, publishing has no real pricing model.”

Payment is only the beginning, and on the grand scheme of things, it is merely an exercise in negotiations and little else.

And this is where the Business Week article leaves off. My question is: how will the publishers and news providers add value to their offerings?

People have had the likes of TiVo, Sky Plus and iTunes for a while, now. We know and understand choice. Choice is now no longer the unusual thing that it used to be, we now expect choice.

So what more are these guys willing to offer to make the likes of you and me buy our news from them?

I foresee a number of things, first and foremost, as a supplier of news and a seasoned veteran of the web, any news publisher knows all there is to know about ‘stickiness’; the practice of creating compelling content to keep a visitor from going elsewhere.

But in an age of extreme specificity; what with geographically specific travel reports and route planning, regionally specific weather, demographically specific news content and current affairs and the incumbent advertisements and sponsorships, terms like stickiness will no longer have relevance because they will become a given.

So once you’ve read one news story, the logical next step is to offer them more similar and / or related news stories to keep them engaged and to keep those payments coming through.

Secondly, entertainment has value all its own. By doing deals with games developers — especially those familiar with developing for small devices like mobile phones — deals with movie studios to provide the latest movie trailers, deals with the music labels to provide special offers like pre-release previews of music, you can really see where all of this is going.

And best of all, not a single thing you read, watch or listen will not be what you didn’t ask for.

Choice is a wonderful thing, but change is always good news…

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

3 replies on “Change is always good news…”

Well…… There’s an upside and a downside to this. The upside is what you’ve posted, the downsides are:

Narrow Mindedness : When you can restrict your exposure to what you want to hear/see only, then you can restrict it to conform to your own (potentially narrow minded) views. For example, Christians only listening to / watching news from Christian broadcasters/stations (i.e. they don’t get any other viewpoints to provoke thoughts). I think it’s important to obtain views and see things from people with differing viewpoints in order to broaden your own and ensure you don’t become insular and narrow minded.

Provider Poverty : Any sufficiently large content provider will be able to sell enough of it’s small pieces of content to ensure it maintains a decent revenue stream. But what about the smaller content providers who rely on the whole of their content being consumed in order to generate enough revenue to keep them going? I don’t think there’s any way round this because it’s coming whether we like it or not, but when you can pick and choose only the ‘best’ (sic) bits, then the rest will quickly die. It also pushes the bar up effectively so that unless everything you produce is ‘the best’ you won’t have a business.

As I said, we can’t stop it, it’s coming, but it’s severe social engineering and it’s coming fast.

I did leave the topic quite open ended with regards to the social aspects, but maybe it’s better for others to discuss this, such as you!

And I agree with you.

But I have covered social engineering before now, and left unchecked, can be a bit of a monster…

I want to write a post about this, and I will sometime soon, however it got me thinking about the society we’re heading into.

Have you ever read “Return from the Stars” by Stanislaw Lem? It’s worth it, believe me. The simple side of the plot is about a spaceship crew who are sent on an exploratory mission for ten years, but due to relative time diferences arrive back on Earth after 120 years. Essentially the Earth they arrive on is like a Foreign land to them – society has radically changed so that they don’t fit, and can’t understand it. The hero is not portrayed sympathetically, but the society is portrayed as utterly normal for those who live in it, and utterly alien to us.

That may sound like a convoluted aside, but essentially what I’m getting at (and the book above is one of many that take the same kind of look) is the society of our grandchildren will likely be so alien to us now that we may find it extremely difficult to deal with. It will probably take us so far out of our comfort zone, and be the product of so much (un-architected) social engineering that it will be unrecognisable to us.

Social engineering happens anyway and all the time, every time a new invention comes along (as you covered in your previous post), but also it occurs over time by individuals driving change (consider changing attitudes to homosexuality for example – attitudes have changed dramatically over the last 40 years, but why? who drove that change? what caused that change? Did it happen spontaneously (unlikely)).

We could even make an experiment in social engineering change, by deciding on something (small) within our current culture that we want to change, then carrying out a programme of subtle pervasion in order to effect that change.

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