Mediated, intermediated, disintermediated

A typically astute piece from Felix Salmon on how the likes of Tumblr and Pinterest are signposting the way media content is going to be disseminated in future – they allow everybody to act as curators, collecting and spreading the content they like.

The implications for olde world media organisations are doubly troublesome – newspapers and magazines are just about getting to grips with the challenges posed by the web, in which they have to adjust from producing a printed product to a digital product. The business models are drastically different, but the underlying concepts isn’t  – someway or other, you will monetise the readers attracted to your bundled content. It’s already established how to profit from that content in paper and ink, not so much when it’s in bits and pixels.

But Salmon is touching on something potentially far more disruptive: “In future, the most viral stories are going to have a life of their own, being shared across many different platforms and being read by people who will never visit the original site on which they were published.”

How the hell are newspapers supposed to monetise those readers? Far from being a “vertically integrated” publishing model, this threatens to make it more of an “atomised” publishing model. As Salmon points out, “the content creators with the broadest reach will be the ones who care the least about protecting their copyrights.”

Some publishers have already been successful with Facebook applications, inserting their content into the social graph, in the nauseating phrase beloved of tech wafflers. In practice, it means that the reader’s relationship with the content is changed quite fundamentally – what was once just an article or a review or a report to be consumed becomes folded into the person’s online identity the moment they post it or reblog it or retweet it. Whether it’s on Facebook or Tumblr or Pinterest or Twitter or whatever tool arrives next month, the posting of content is an act of self-expression.

In a marvellously meandering essay on the phenomenon of Lana del Rey and appropriated identity on Pitchfork, Mark Richardson points out the parallels between school notebooks scrawled with the names of your favourite bands and the adolescent adoption of Tumblrs that serve a pretty similar purpose.

“So instead of scrawling a constellation of bands onto a blank notebook, you can instead host the band’s music, post their videos, and present their most compelling photos,” he writes. “You can actually become a broadcaster of the media, rather than just commenting on it, and you can do it all with just a couple of clicks of a mouse. The person posting can say, “This is me” with a click or two, and the media itself becomes part of the person’s identity, not just the association with it.”

The challenge then is in producing content that goes further than keeping people informed – now, the content will be measured by how many people want to publicly tie it into their self-constructed digital persona as they disseminate it and appropriate it. There has always been an element of tribal signalling in one’s choice of newspaper or magazine, be it The Irish Times or Hello!, but that process is going to become considerably more, well, interesting to say the least.

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