Post-Gutenberg media

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Image: Moveable type. Credit Wilhei55 (CC)

The ever-inspirational Clay Shirky spoke at the Edinburgh TV Festival last Saturday, reports Channel 4’s Matt Locke. It sounded fascinating, but unfortunately the Guardian have decided to keep it as paywalled content so we’ll have to make do with Matt’s thoughts and a the Guardian’s coverage on its Organ Grinder blog (unless anyone has a link to another source?).

Matt explains that Clay is talking about the age of networks as the “Post-Gutenberg economy”, a lovely phrase:

…we are now living in the first post-Gutenberg economy. Although Gutenberg radically democratised the production and dissemination of information with his printing press, the expertise and costs involved were still significant enough to warrant filtering what gets published. The economic risk involved in printing 100s or 1000s of copies of a book, not yet knowing the demand from the public, meant that the role of flitering content fell to those who owned the means of production – the Publishers. This Gutenberg economic model – Filter, then Publish – has held steady for every mass media technology since, including cinema, radio and obviously TV.

In the networks what we need to do is publish, then filter. Nice. Iterative. That’ll work.

Of course the major concern of TV execs listening to the speech can be pretty much summed up as “how much of the older order can we preserve”. Matt’s analysis is harsh but true, especially as he is a content producer at what has been until now a broadcasting company:

This is the single biggest risk facing existing content producers shifting from a Gutenberg model to a Post-Gutenberg model. In seeking to maintain their existing cost structures and ways of working, they miss the real opportunity, which is to find ways of making content that is faster, more flexible, and crucially – cheaper. This doesn’t mean that it can’t have impact or quality for its audience – Clay said that content producers need to focus on making content that creates passion amongst its audience, rather than focusing on scale.

Publish, then filter; Passion, not scale – these should be stapled onto the walls of anyone interested in creating value – public or commercial – on the internet. And they should be in the DNA of anyone commissioning for 4iP.

I left a comment on Matt’s post which I’ll put up here too:

Content and the connections that come from creating a network around it, or creating value within existing networks, may just turn out to be the permission to have a shot at creating some revenue generating business models at all.

I think it comes down to understanding the value in understanding networks. If you know where people are and what they want from you above and beyond the content, what some of them may be prepared to give you money for, then you

There were a couple of dominant business models in the Gutenberg age: advertising alongside the content, or sponsorship (be it semi-benevolent state funding, or the oevrt branded content that brought you say, soap operas or the super rich-man’s version of football that is the modern Premiership).

I think the way that it may turn out is that these will be one of a “spectrum” of business models which will be tried in various combinations and iterations around a franchise or content brand to what works.

And the smarter we get about understanding our networks, the faster and more efficient that revenue portfolio management will become…

: : Matt’s post is on the new 4IP blog (tagline: “Rethinking public service media”) which looks like its worth following. 4IP is a fascinating project:

The 4IP Fund aims to deliver publicly valuable content and services on digital media platforms with significant impact and in sustainable ways. It represents one of the biggest and most exciting calls-to-action for new and emergent digital media companies in the UK.

Tom Loosemore, a real live digital revolutionary who was a prime mover in the BBC’s digital efforts before heading off for a stint at UK comms regulator Ofcom, was recently appointed as head of the fund. Definitely worth keeping an eye on what they get up to then…

By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google