Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Decline of Mass Media: Is Piracy To Blame?

I will not try to dance around the idea that mass media is as vibrant as it was ever. I believe (based on evidence) that mass media as a whole is in a decline. This includes movies, music, TV and newspapers.

Most copyright crusaders also agree with this. They view this decline as a critical problem that needs to be fixed. They also put the blame squarely (or largely) on piracy. But is this a complete view?

Consider that newspapers are among the largest have-nots of the information age. It's not a good time to be professional journalist. Do copyright crusaders believe piracy is destroying newspapers? Do people torrent the Wall Street Journal?

No. The reason newspapers are suffering is because people don't need newspapers to get information anymore. They get it from social media - blogs, social networking sites, and wikis. Basically, user generated content. These sources of information even in the most extreme interpretations are not typically infringing on copyright. But the financial damage they cause to mass media is astronomical.

As I see it, there is one common idea of information post-scarcity. It presents itself in two different ways: in social media, and in piracy. Social media is the legal side of information post-scarcity, piracy is the illegal. But both damage the idea of mass media.

Some copyright crusaders I've talked with acknowledge this fact - social media harms mass media. But they don't care, they are only trying to protect "their" work. Well, if piracy went away they still wouldn't be as healthy of an industry as they were before the information age. And that is because of this social media movement, which if looking at website statistics eclipses piracy sites and mass media sites. Can you find a website focused on creating and distributing mass media in the top 20? The closet thing I can find is BBC News at #47, an entity that doesn't even rely on copyright for most of its revenue.

The fact of the matter, piracy or not: The good ol' days where "content is king" is gone. What matters these days is providing a platform where prosumers can create and share content. That is the heart of social media.

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