The Fact That Anyone Can Publish Means More Of The Good Stuff... And Yes, More Of The Bad Stuff

from the but-which-is-more-important dept

We've tried to articulate this before when various (often self-proclaimed) elitists like Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen or Mark Helprin bash the rise of social media or the fact that "anyone" can publish. They love to highlight all of the bad and ridiculous stuff that people decide to publish. And, no doubt, plenty more bad stuff gets published. But... at the same time, a lot more good stuff gets published as well. Umair Haque lays this out perfectly in talking about the new media landscape in terms of "soda" and "wine."
Now consider an open mediascape. Here, there are a million blogs -- or more -- that are predictable, partisan, and pedestrian: soda. But the quality of information has already hit rock-bottom, and at the bottom, soda offered via blogs is just a substitute for a slightly different flavor of soda offered on shock radio. The soda anyone can now offer in an open mediaconomy isn't that much worse than the soda that big producers already offer.<

Here's what's different: the wine is of a higher quality. In an open mediascape, what is truly different is not the quality of soda, but the quality of wine. Sure, there are ten thousand rabid bloggers who have Glenn Beck on eternal robo-repeat. But I also have access to Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, Robert Reich, and Paul Romer. I can hang out with Barry Ritholtz, Fred Wilson, and Rick Bookstaber.

In an open mediaconomy, yes, there's plenty lethally unhealthy soda on offer -- but I also have access to a new world of fine wine. In a closed mediaconomy, I'm out of luck: I'm stuck mostly with soda.

The net effect is this. The worse stuff is not that much worse. But the good stuff is way, way better.
I'd argue that even if the worst stuff is worse (and, at times, it is), that doesn't really matter, since the good stuff is still way, way better.

Separately, this argument applies in many other fields beyond just media as well. For example, we've seen claims that because societies that didn't have strong patent laws exhibit lots of copying, it means that there's no innovation that happens there. And, yet, that's not really true at all. Yes, there's a lot more copying, but that doesn't preclude more innovation -- and often that greater level of copying helps incentivize more innovation by giving those who can innovate more reason to try to stand out from the crowd. A perfect example of this is in the fashion space, where a lack of a fashion copyright has led to lots of competition -- and, yes, lots of copying -- but also a lot more innovation.

This can be difficult for some to understand, because they only look at the percentages, rather than the absolutes. They look at the percentage of those in the market producing "good content" or "innovating" and assume that's the best way to measure. But if they looked at it from an absolute standpoint, concerning how much good content is being produced (while ignoring the bad content) or how much new innovation is being produced (ignoring the copying), they'd realize the actual, absolute, outcome is much better than before.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:17am

    He forgot to mention that the good stuff is way harder to find, because it is buried under piles and piles and aisle after aisle of the bad stuff. It's like going into your local food store, and finding the soda aisle has nothing but off brands and store brands, and at the back of the last row on the right, there is one bottle of the "good stuff".

    There isn't significantly more quality anything out there... but there sure is a whole lot more out there. Ratio wise, easy publishing is stinking the place up.

     

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  2.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:21am

    Re:

    There isn't significantly more quality anything out there... but there sure is a whole lot more out there. Ratio wise, easy publishing is stinking the place up.

    Hence the business opportunity in finding the good stuff.

     

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  3.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    Pish!! Balderdash! BULLSHIT!!

    When you're walking down the soda aisle; you know the good stuff when you see it. ;P

    Also, your neighbors/friends/family will say things like "Have you tried this one? It's great!" or "Stay away from that brand, it's crap."

    Plus, soda that doesn't sell is the soda that stops being stocked in the aisle.

    Shall we continue the comparisons, Mr. Coward?

    More means more to be better. More opportunity for everybody involved, whether producer or purveyor or consumer.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:30am

    “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” - Sturgeon's Law

    Right now, there are 1,000,000 professional artists and only 100,000 are any good.

    Right now, there are 100,000,000 amateur artists and only 10,000,000 are any good.

    These numbers are made up but you cannot deny that there are vastly more amateurs in the world than professionals.

    I'll be happy to butcher and paraphrase Man Ray:

    "A bad judge, a bad doctor, a bad cook, these people can kill you. But a bad artist?"

     

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  5.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:35am

    Re:

    Close enough.

    It's not like the gatekeepers have done much to shield us from the crap. We're better off without them.

     

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  6.  
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    hank, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:43am

    just look a flickr or semi-pro athletics

    The barrier is so low that individuals who never got a chance to participate in a certain area now have that ability -- the same reason professionals who play obscure sports get paid very little while pros who play popular (low barrier to entry - cheap) sports get the highest salaries - there are 50 million excellent golfers in the world, but there are only 20 or so that you would actually pay to see, in extremely low demand - high supply occupations like pro sports or movie stars there is this interesting inverse relation where only the very best become compensated

     

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  7.  
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    Richard (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:47am

    Re:

    Ratio wise, easy publishing is stinking the place up.
    Even if that were true it wouldn't amount to a reason to ban easy publishing. Only a fascist or feudal state could do it - is that what you want?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re:

    All you are doing in the end is swapping one set of gate keepers (media industry) for another set of gate keepers. The parting on the left, is now a parting on the right sort of thing.

    More and more, I think that much of the hatred directed towards the media industry has more to do with people trying to worm their way into the middleman seat, rather than truly hating middlemen.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Except that in the current ecosystem, EVERYONE becomes the middleman.

    That's the key when it comes to the communication avenues that have been created in the last decade, that suddenly everyone has the ability to become a gate keeper with practically no start-up costs.

     

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  10.  
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    BullJustin (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    All businesses make the highest profit by controlling a bottleneck between the idea and the sale. The internet has shifted the location of these bottlenecks out from under many industries. Most of the major players in these fields are too bloated and entrenched to react quickly and thus are collapsing under their own weight.

    Some of the anger against middlemen is actually just anger that the speaker isn't the middleman, some of it is that the middlemen abused their position and now that it is untenable are trying to legislate their survival rather than adapt, and some of it is the prior pretending to be the former.

     

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  11.  
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    Ryan, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 12:23pm

    I think the problem with people measuring the percentage is the common idea that the people are too stupid to figure it out themselves. Besides the fact that this is nonsense regardless of how many exceptional idiots you find in the short-term, a lot of people would rather there were a law or enforced standard that will attempt to socially engineer society to their perceived ideals. We need filters for internet content so that stupid people can only access the "good" stuff, we need taxes on bad food so fat people are more disinclined to eat, we need to ban driving while texting so reckless people will be distracted by something else, etc. The media insists on stories about "helpless" victims that incite outrage in the public with the ultimate effect that we pass a law for/against it.

     

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  12.  
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    TheStupidOne, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 12:46pm

    Re:

    Finding good content amongst the crap that is out there is much easier than you seem to think. If you want to find some good stuff, look at http://www.stumbleupon.com/ or http://digg.com/. Then once you find something you like, see what that site links to. and what those sites link to. Also, just read some things that your friends recommend.

    Read the blog of the source of a news story instead of getting it through the left/right filter that main stream media represents.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 1:48pm

    D@mn Gutenberg! NEVER should have discovered movable type! This is all HIS fault!

     

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  14.  
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    Colin, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 2:11pm

    There may be more "stuff" out there and it may be hard to sift the wheat from the chaff but it has always been that way. Both the good and the bad have been produced for millenniums.

    I suspect the statement "But the good stuff is way, way better." is a load of crap though.
    Unless we have recently managed to concoct a race of super talented people that I have not heard about.

     

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  15.  
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    Nina Paley (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 2:11pm

    they're more worried about the good stuff

    Media elites who rail against the proliferation of bad stuff are in fact more worried about the good stuff. It's the good stuff that poses a real threat to their livelihoods. It's easier to preserve their egos by insisting that competition isn't real, it's a mistake, it's crap - and the audience is stupid for even considering the competition.

     

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  16.  
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    Lisa (profile), Oct 21st, 2009 @ 2:58pm

    The problem with this article

    Is that good and bad are relative to the individual. Be it in art or morals or food.

    For example, I hate twilight, but to someone else it might be the best thing ever. So statements on the ratio of good-to-bad are meaningless.

     

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  17.  
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    hank, Oct 21st, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    Re: they're more worried about the good stuff

    yes! this is what i was thinking when i mentioned flickr -- if you ever have observed a photo forum, there are always pros complaining about how amateurs who recently got into the hobby of photography "are destroying the business" by hanging out a shingle and going pro. Yet in many instances you have 13 year olds who are putting out incredible work and undercutting the price structure -- this is a direct result of the larger pool of available talent and the cream rising to the top. More so than any other industry, the professional photography sector is amazing to watch not only because of the explosion of popularity by way of the removal of technical limitations, but also because photographers vicious use of copyright as a weapon for a business model. The most interesting part is that most pro photographers derive most of their income from service based work i.e. work for hire, rather than royalty payments.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2009 @ 1:22am

    Media elites who rail against the proliferation of bad stuff are in fact more worried about the good stuff. It's the good stuff that poses a real threat to their livelihoods. It's easier to preserve their egos by insisting that competition isn't real, it's a mistake, it's crap - and the audience is stupid for even considering the competition.


    Nina, your cartoon is not a threat to the professional film industry. If it was, they would have bought it from you when you tried to sell it to them.

    You can film a Bluray-ready, fully HD movie these days with a $300 camcorder and edit the footage with a $150 dollar editing program on a $600 computer -- so where are all the good amateur films?

    ...

     

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  19.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Oct 22nd, 2009 @ 4:05am

    Re: The problem with this article

    It doesn't matter.
    Indeed beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Example:
    If person A thinks Glen Beck is the best thing to have happened since sliced bread, then he/she will find many sites to suit their needs. And to them those are the best places to find news.
    But person B can't stand Glen Beck, then for him/her there are a whole host of other sites that suits their needs.

    It doesn't matter that good and bad are relative to the beholder.

     

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  20.  
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    Barry Ritholtz, Oct 22nd, 2009 @ 7:51am

    Most of everything is junk

    “Ninety percent of everything is crapd.”

    -Sturgeon's Law

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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