The future of “the media”: What exactly are we trying to save here?

Below is the first, unedited draft of an article for the next edition of the Rhodes Journalism Review.

Chris Anderson’s new book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price’ has stoked the fire of a debate that seems to be never ending in media circles. In it, Anderson talks about how in the digital world, the most effective price is ‘zero’ and that those who have recognised this are generating revenue from models like cross-subsidies (giving away a DVR to sell cable service) and freemiums (offering Flickr for free while selling the superior FlickrPro to serious users).

Anderson’s book has angered (mostly traditional) media professionals whose business model seems to be threatened by such claims. In a post on Twitter (11 July 2009), Mail & Guardian publisher, Trevor Ncube wrote: ‘We need to collectively recover from the cardinal sin of giving content for free & move to sustainable biz models.’

Ncube’s reaction is endemic to the traditional media sector around the world. Unlike Anderson, he does not equate a system where content is given away for ‘free’ with a sustainable business model. People need to once again value the credible information that the media produces, he believes. That is the future.

How do we navigate through the clearly emotional defensiveness of big media and the utopian ideals of technologists to understand an age in which the media have, according to Chris Anderson, ‘lost their monopoly on consumer attention’ and are now flailing about trying to re-assert their value proposition in the midst of all the new competition? Continue reading “The future of “the media”: What exactly are we trying to save here?”