The Age of Decentralised Media is Here

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In the Beginning…

In the beginning was the word, and the word was written down in languages like Greek and Latin, and then eventually it was translated into English. Knowledge was power, and power, as far as the wealthy were concerned, belonged to those who were able to read. Media wasn’t just for anyone to consume, it was for the deserving, privileged few.

Neither was it for anyone to create. The monks and other religious men responsible for writing, translating, and copying the great works, were only as good as their word.

In the 15th Century the printing press was invented, and with it the mass production and widespread dissemination of printed books. But it still required a media creator who had the widespread appeal or the personal means to pay for a run of the printing press.

But the people wanted books to read, and a great industry sprang up to cater for their desire. Publishing houses varied in size and shape, depending on their customers and what they were required to produce. Some were small boutique affairs, others were huge great behemoths, structured like other great industries of the day.

Books have remained the staple means of distributing knowledge for thousands of years. Towards the end of the 20th and early part of the 21st Century, with the dawning of the media age, competition for media consumers has become fiercer, and publishing houses have had to gather their ranks, and join together just to survive.

It started with personal computing; word-processors and the home printer. Rather than employing banks of typists to copy out letters, a simple machine could do the donkeywork for you, replicating in full colour your very own documents hundreds, or even thousands of times.

The Internet has made us all Media Creators

Then the internet came along and changed everything. Accessing information was less about the tangible. Consumers were offered enormous variety and choice in what they gave their attention to. In times gone by, large publishing houses had performed the sifting and sorting of the vast amounts of information on our behalf, deciding which of it was published. It wasn’t censorship as such, but it did have to pass muster with the editor, to have mainstream appeal before it saw the light of day, which is essentially the same thing.

We the consumers of media are now required to find ways to filter out the subjects and people that we enjoy, and with a largely uncensored pool in which to cast our net, we need some help. We look to social media networks, we seek out personalities and ideologies which tally with our own worldviews, and we start consuming (as well as creating) media in smaller, more digestible, bite-size pieces. A tweet here, a blog entry there, perhaps even a Vlog if we have the time or the inclination. We now see that in choosing what we consume we are voting for those media forms, thereby part nd parcel of the creation of them. If a tree falls in the forest but no-one films it, will it get any views on Youtube? Exactly.

With the plethora of choices available to the modern media consumer, the old boys have found it hard to tempt viewers into consuming their equally old school media forms. Generations brought up on Youtube videos find the visual aspect of communication essential to hold their limited attention spans. Words and stationary images (printed on paper no less) are so 20th Century. If you want to explain something, you’d better draw them a picture, or they’ll be yawning before you’re half way through.

A Decentralised Network

I work in Engineering, amongst other things, in renewable energy. Things are changing in the energy marketplace and one such element is decentralised energy. Large centralised power stations are being replaced by smaller decentralised power distribution systems.

Due to advancements in generation technology, the great distribution monopolies of infrastructure are being integrated with smaller power generators which will one day replace them entirely. Every home will have a generator which resembles a modern condensing boiler. This will produce all of the power that the property requires to heat, light, cook, power, and even charge up the family flying saucer.

With energy markets decentralising, the power is literally being restored to the people. We see a similar thing occurring in telecoms markets. For example, in my home, I have a landline only because it’s required to get my broadband. I never use a home phone, why would I? It’s like a wristwatch; it serves only one purpose. What’s the point of that?

The UK built a centralised infrastructure with telecoms exchanges and telegraph poles long before mobile phones came along. But mobile telecoms are superseding the old fixed lines, even data transmission systems exceed fixed line infrastructure in some locations. Countries without centralised telecoms systems are leapfrogging them and adopting mobile telecoms from the off. Africa is one such example.

As it is with these forms of energy, so it is with media. I’m not just talking about books being replaced by e-readers, I’m talking about newspapers and magazines adapting or dying a death. Where once upon a time we had many different boutique publishing firms, nowadays we have a few very large magazine publishing houses, and a handful of large publishing houses for books, as well as a whole host of print to order self publishing businesses. To benefit from economies of scale, and to keep overheads to a minimum, as the pond has been drying up, the big fish has been forced to eat all of the smaller fish to stay alive.

Creator or Consumer?

Your role as a pure consumer of media is gone. Whether you like it or not, you are also a creator of media. You can take this as far as you like; from allowing your photos to be tagged on Facebook to becoming a global Youtube sensation.

Know that nothing is standing in your way of putting yourself out there in any form that you see fit. Good at writing? Write. Good on video? Record yourself. Good behind the video or the camera? Direct the picture. If you have something to offer, you don’t need the approval of publishers to get yourself up and running. They can teach you a lot about media and how it works in the normal sense and give you the practice you need to write copy, but don’t see their saying “No” as any impediment to your progress.

If you have a popular Youtube channel, and something of a following, you could very well find yourself getting a phone call from a manufacturer asking whether you would be prepared to test ride their bikes, or if you write a good piece of copy, you may very well find yourself being asked to contribute to a larger publication or website.

Publishers, it’s Time to Up your Game

Traditional media has its place, but unless it moves with the times, it will wither and die. Paper print is an old fashioned and outdated mode. It will never disappear, but it will be relegated to the sidelines of mainstream communication media. Photography is great, but when the opposition offer ‘moving pictures’ while yours are stationary, you’re at a disadvantage to those who like shiny things. Have a look at the new wave of time-lapse photography, and tell me that it isn’t more appealing than a still photograph.

In a world of media consumption, where people subscribe (with cash) to the channels that they like, is there still room for an old school publishing house? Sure. But is the guy you hired to write copy any good presenting behind a video camera? From what I’ve seen, not so much.

Car and motorcycle magazines frequently put their copywriters behind the camera, for another, ahem ‘epic track battle’ and I remain, as ever, consistently underwhelmed. If I was the editor, I’d be looking for fresh blood. Say what you like about Clarkson, Hammond and May, but they are great presenters.

Being good on camera is a skill, and if you have it, you’ll go a long way in years to come. When Chris Harris left Evo magazine, I thought he had lost his mind, but I suspect he saw a big bold future out ahead, and being not too shabby in front of the camera, went off to start his own Youtube channel.

‘The pioneers get the arrows, the settlers get the land’

The world wasn’t quite ready, but it will be soon. We should still bless the media pioneers for moving things forward.

Should Media be Free?

The first thing that we need is a payment mechanism to support new media creators, the way we consume our content is changing, and those who fail to keep up by providing user friendly accessible media, will fall by the wayside (ITV I’m talking about you, have you even heard of let alone used BBC iPlayer?). Advertising has long been the funder of televised media, but in a decentralised media market, even with the likes of Google’s cookie targeted adverts, this is not enough. The audiences are too small, and the revenue likewise.

In the past the large TV production companies had their audiences glued to the television. There were only 5 channels and viewing figures were appropriately high. With an increase of choice in both material as well as when that material is watched, TV advertising revenues have fallen, and with it the quality of the programmes. For businesses without a Licence Fee as guaranteed funding, this has been a struggle, and has led to the demise of the others (anyone who is not the BBC)

The current state of affairs is stacked heavily in favour of media consumers. They expect to receive media freely and free of charge. But this will need to change if we want to support quality in our decentralised media forms.

For too long we have been living beyond our means, borrowing money that we didn’t have, or having the government borrow money they didn’t have to fill the holes in the money we didn’t have. We have grown accustomed to having our lives subsidised.

When the UK financial system ‘corrects itself’ in the not so distant future, perhaps we will see a return to a more old fashioned, but no less appealing way of interacting with others economically: there is no such thing as something for nothing. If something is worth paying for, we should be prepared and happy to vote for it with our money. The rise of the boutique paid subscription channel on Youtube, Netflix and the like, may then take off.

What are You Waiting For?

You have all the tools you need to promote yourself and your brand, and the majority of them are free of charge. I’m not saying that you can suddenly make a living writing, Blogging or Vlogging, but that day will come sooner than you realise.

Yeah right! There are hundreds of people who write well, why would anyone listen to anything I have to say?

Because the world is a diverse place full of diverse people who have been spoon fed media from the mould of the large publishing houses. As the market expands, consumers of media are becoming more discerning because of their increased choice. They will seek out information which resonates with who they are, and what they like. And that could well mean someone like you.

Mainstream media is great. But if you produce something alternative, however obscure you might think it is, there is a market out there that will resonate with it. You might think that in tailoring your output to the mainstream, you are trying to appeal to the masses, but you are actually trying to be something that you are not. When you embrace who you are, you create from your place of power and others will appreciate that. The more you accept who you are and put yourself out there in a genuine way, the more people will appreciate your integrity, and this is what they will pay for; passion.

People who don’t care about music listen to MOR (Middle of the Road) music on the radio. People who are really into obscure music forms seek out specialist record shops and hand over money. So you see, the expansion of the marketplace actually benefits the smaller fishes in the pond, as long as they are genuine, they will gain an audience, however small. Of course with a global market at the ready, even very niche media forms can play to a significant audience.

Companies like Google make a lot of money setting up and running these media interfaces, and they will doubtless help to make Youtube into a higher value media source. Just imagine in ten years’ time, rather than sitting down to watch Coronation Street, we could be sitting down to watch a 4k Youtube channel created by the likes of you and me.

And Motorbikes?

In this expanding media world, we certainly have media channels dedicated to cars, yes. But we also have a growth market in the form of motorcycles.

Improvements in motorcycle safety and comfort with ABS, Cornering ABS, tyre technology, Electronic Suspension, and Traction Control Systems, combined with improved driving standards means a greater appeal of the sport, and a growing market share.

Just as bicycles became a renewed part of the national psyche following the 2012 Olympic Games, as motorcycles become better integrated into the societal mainstream, consumers of motorcycle related media will grow with them.

The question remains: What new forms of media would you like to see out there? Magazines are old school. Something you realise when you subscribe to them over a decade; it’s the same stories, the same features, the same affected language regurgitated. The same stories get rehashed and put out in a ‘new’ format.

With expanding media tools we have the opportunity to create something genuinely new, to push the boundaries of what is possible ourselves. We can buy media capture devices for very little and edit them in coffee shops on our laptops. We can record studio quality sound, or commission someone to write music to play over the top. We can shoot 4k video on a helmet camera, and broadcast it to the world, we can put ourselves out there and have access to millions of potential viewers and subscribers via Youtube, Vimeo and their like.

Do you have something to say? Well, what are you waiting for?