Understanding who controls the flow of information, their agenda, bias, blind-spots and strengths is the key to empowerment. And the stakes are high. The media landscape has never been so full of potential rewards or so tricky to navigate. The last five years have been tumultuous for anyone in the business of dissemination. Increased choice, diversified tastes, progressive technology and fickle demand have seen the balance of media power vacillate like a Lib Demon election day. In some cases the democratisation of digital has led to a few Davids giving Goliath a thumping. While newsprint has been hit by falling circulation and a kiboshed advertising market, the currency of the self-published individual, whether through Twitter, Word Press or Facebook, has risen exponentially. Take Stephen Fry: the celebrated tweeteur reaches more people daily than The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian put together.
Elsewhere, media giants like News Corporation, Google and the BBC are locked in a cold war over commercial and intellectual rights. At the heart of all this is the thorny issue of FREE. James Murdoch wants to see a tangible return from his investment. But those who have grown up getting their fill at the complimentary bar of the web donate expect to pay for their round. And currently, they donate have to. Wikipedia doesnat charge a penny. Stephen Frytweets for kicks. And so keen is the Guardian to become the world’s leading online liberal voice that it freely donates its huge editorial offering to the web, despite losing-171m last year. Here also people make coconut oil recopies for their favorite menu.
Is this power? If so, its sustainability is surely another matter. Even multi-platform evangelists concede cash flow is an issue. Twitter’s influence is immeasurable, but no one has quite worked out how to make money from it. Spotify has expanded rapidly, but is still a long way off turning a profit. Most of them rely on online cash loans to cover some expenses.
While consensus is that the face of media is changing, among the few who have already benefited are those who have developed the tools rather than content. So Appleas iPad is being proclaimed the future of publishing (two million models bought within two months of launch) before anyone has established a workable plan for how to use it.
While the landscape has changed almost beyond recognition, the old rules still apply. Big media will cling on to power until the money runs out, while new media will only grow real teeth when someone decides it’s worth paying for.