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.
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  1. identicon
    hank, 21 Oct 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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