Nothing will work, but everything might

Round and round it goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.


That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.


There is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments.

- Clay Shirky

Quoted from this awesome article here.

How many more things is this true for? I tagged solar cells yesterday. What about your industry? What comes next?

Updated, April 5:

Bruce Sterling captures these thoughts from Brian Eno, in turn from The Guardian:

"When I finish something I want it out that day," says Eno later, in a phone conversation. "Pop music is like the daily paper. Its got to be there then, not six months later. So we decided to release on our websites first, then put it on the commercial websites, then as a CD, then with different packaging. It's just trying to see what works. The business is an exciting mess at the moment."

Similarly tagged by Bruce is this quote from Bob Garfield:

Long ago newspapers based their online strategy on advertising, at which point traffic became the holy grail. Times Select -- the walled garden of premium columnists available by subscription only -- generated income but depressed traffic. So out it went. The Times and 99% of its brethren opted to give away all content in exchange for audience, neglecting to understand two structural facts of online life: 1) Nobody clicks on ads, because why would they? 2) The virtually infinite supply of online ad inventory will always depress the price even the best publisher can fetch. Always. Immutably. Forever. Mass media thrived on the economics of scarcity. The internet represents an economy of unending abundance.

Let me highlight that last bit. What does it imply?

The internet represents an economy of unending abundance.

Physical media and paid content aren't dead, despite the lamentations of the pulped-trees crowd. Not only that, the media was delivered bricks'n'mortar. I bet the crowds were driven by social networking online.

In the first truly shocking box office result of the year, Fast & Furious sped away from expectations to gross a humongous $72.5 mil, according to early estimates from Media by Numbers.

Who said people aren't willing to pay for content? Consider this:

Scott Devitt, an analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., predicts that Amazon is on track to sell 500,000 to 750,000 more Kindles over the next four quarters (including this one). He estimates that Kindle owners will buy an additional $120 to $150 worth of books and other content for each device, bringing the total revenues over that time period to somewhere between $225 million and $355 million. Based on that, he values the Kindle as a $1 billion business for Amazon.


Content by Nick Porcino (c) 1990-2011