Some time ago I wrote “content is king“. Simple enough. But I wasn’t echoing the staid SEO mantra of “just write good content“. I was saying that content, compared to everything else you generate as a web publisher, is the only asset you own and control. It is the content, and not the process of publishing that content, that matters.
Not everyone agreed, and I didn’t bother to argue or even explain. If I was wrong, it was a temporary condition caused by Internet economics.
In person, when asked about my work as a competitive webmaster and publisher, I allude to the fact that the local newspaper is my biggest competitor, and that I am a threat to that very politically-powerful local newspaper. I often get odd reactions. Why would I be a threat to the newspaper? Why would I consider myself to be in competition to a newspaper? Was I publishing a newspaper myself? People didn’t understand; many still don’t. But the newspapers do. My local city has a newspaper. The nearest big city is Seattle, which has two big newspapers (owned by the same people?). I compete with them, and I am a threat to them, both as a content producer and as a new-age content consumer.
As a photographer I have been very depressed and frustrated by photography as an industry, yet very excited by professional photography as an endeavor. For the same reasons. After ten plus years of coercion and dominance of the photographer by the media (especially “new” media), the tide is shifting. Why? Because content is king. During the past ten years professional photographers have signed away their rights in exchange for the bread and water they needed to feed themselves and their families. It turns out, those rights were everything. Ever read the Flickr terms? The YouTube terms? The Picassa and Blogger terms? Upload your content and you give away rights.
Good thing for photographers, the human brain has an insatiable appetite for imagery. Visual memory is so efficient that we have immediate recall of “remembered” images. Faster than we can think, we can recognize an image we have seen before, and “feel” emotions associated with it. Likewise, we “feel” the impact of new, never before seen imagery. No matter how many images Bill Gates “owns”, it will never be enough. We will always need more. A picture is worth a thousand words, even if Google is still basically a text engine.
So now Google has (finally?) moved to disintermediate the news wire services. Oh sure it’s billed as a positive collaboration that cuts out the newspaper as middleman, but isn’t it really a disintermediation of the news wires themselves? I mean really, folks, the news wires are nothing more than vertical googles for news, with allegiance from foot soldiers corralled by the newspapers. The need for news wires came from the newspapers. The support for news wires came from the newspapers. The funding for news wires came from the newspapers. Once Google 0wnz the news wires, it will pigeon-hole them the way it has been pigeon-holing web publishers. They will start to specialize, so as not to overlap. They will be dis-empowered, and eventually eliminated. And the newspapers? They will become more beholden to Google than ever. And Google, naturally, will begin to restrict and “manage” the newspapers that don’t fight back effectively.
Google’s disintermediating the supply channel. Nothing new there.
There are way smarter people than me looking at the Google dominance of media. But what about me? Why am I a threat to the local paper, and why is the local newspaper my competition?
Because content is all we own. Whether it is editorial, expository, or visual, the content we produce touches the reader and evokes a response. The pen is mightier. Words teach, images move. The newspapers, like Google, simply aggregate and deliver content to consumers who have expressed an interest. I am a content producer, because I write and I capture life as digital imagery. Professionals monetized that sort of creativity by selling it to the aggregators. Artists didn’t bother… they often kept their art to themselves, and stayed poor. Gallery owners play the middleman role there, but don’t collectors represent the market demand? Collectors are consumers, hindered by that inefficient distribution channel. The value is in the content.
And Google needs more artists.
Google owns Feedburner, which is the “wire” for blog content. Google owns Picassa, which is a “wire” for many people’s family photos. Google reader…YouTube, Google.com, it all makes great sense. So far Google has offered to share profits with “publishers” and not “content producers”, simply because Google can’t do it all and needs the content to be at least minimally prepped for distribution. I think YouTube was the weakest play, swapping hosting and bandwidth for digital rights. That was a very weak, short-sighted play, no? I mean, more bandwidth is just around the corner, right? Or is it? Obviously there are smart people out there banking on the public staying asleep so they can control the new economy. Fast pipes into the home are good for who, exactly? Content producers, looking to feed the hungry consumer. But if YOU are tomorrow’s content producer, who besides Google will reap the rewards of giving you that fast pipe easy Internet access? What economic system actually delivers wealth directly to the individual? Who’s going to pay the ISPs and cable companies?
You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?
One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.