Just call me Barney: Glenn

Just call me Barney
: Glenn Reynolds at Tech Central Station says that big media dinosaurs are big, dumb, and doomed thanks to the plentiful tech revolutions that let anybody with a will have a way to produce media: news, commentary, music, radio, film.

Like the armored knights of the Middle Ages, their position has been a function not of their own inherent virtues, but of a particular economic and technological confluence that is now passing away. And I believe that much of what’s being marketed as “digital rights management” to prevent “stealing” of big-media works is in fact intended to serve as “digital restrictions management” to protect big-media operations from competition by making life harder on potential competitors.

I think they’re doomed, technologically. But if Big Media let their position go without a fight to keep it by fair means or foul, they’ll be the first example of a privileged group that did so. So beware.

Two separate angles to argue here.

First, audience content: Not all big media muckers are blind to the audience revolution occurring here. The smart ones (and, no, they’re not in the majority.. not by a long shot) are embracing this. I’m forever trumpeting the forums and interactivity that are cherished at my company but I’m not alone. Wise moguls are recognizing that the audience is producing content in new (and cheaper!) ways that will benefit everyone (if in no other way than providing competition to the expensive and often unionized producers who are working for the big media companies now). Wise editors/producers also recognize that they will get wiser if they listen to what the audience is saying and that will make them money. But the truth is that the economics of cheaper content that let us produce pages such as this are the same economics that big media companies need to producer better margins in the future. They will be delighted to get a really cheap — and really good — film from a new producer; someday they will also be delighted to cut out all the middlemen (agents, managers, drivers, gaffers, caterers, shop stewards); they will be delighted to save money. It works the same for everyone. What’s good for the goose is good for the pate company.

Second, rights: This, too, is not necessarily a case of opposing interests. Yes, big media companies want to protect their product so they can make as much money as possible from it. But so do the original creators. That’s why we copyright our work; that’s why we charge for it; that’s why we don’t want it copied everywhere without payment; that’s why we want to guard against such theft.

Sure, it’s all a matter of degrees — how smart are the big media execs; how restrictive are the rights restraints? But it’s not a matter of black or white, on or off, doomed or alive.

At the Yale blog conference, I found myself speaking as the token representative of big media (though I’m skinny) and old media (though my beard is prematurely gray, damnit) who also lives in the nanomedia and new media worlds and I welcome that position. I’ve worked with plenty of big, old idiots at big, old media companies. But I’ve also worked with plenty of very smart people who know how to serve an audience and make media into a business and that’s a skill we need in new media. And, frankly, I’ve also seen a fair amount of new media that is never going to make money because it’s not worth paying for.

In the end, this is all a matter of economics. If you can produce quality (and discover quality) media for less, then you will. If you can make more money from your product, you will.

We dinosaurs aren’t ready to lay down and die yet.