The Prism & New Media Chromodynamics

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The ideal prism with which to refract and examine the entire spectrum of change underway in the media environment, now that people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and other information has changed from relative scarcity to surplus, is inescapably the Principle of Supply & Demand.

Too many people who work in the media industries, this is particularly true of journalists, roll their eyes whenever the ‘dismal science’ of economics is invoked about their labor or products. Yet as much as they might wish that they are exempt from economics, it affects the production and sales of news, entertainment, and information as much as the production and sales of gold bullion, pork bellies, or paper clips. Each product or service from every media company, no matter how august or humble, how large or small, is governed by economics. It is ludicrous to believe that the enormous shift from scarcity to surplus in people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and information has not radically transformed the media environment.

Moreover, far too many people in the media industries mistakenly think that economics, and specifically the Principle of Supply & Demand, concern only pricing. They seem blind, or at best willfully ignorant, to economics’ larger consequences, even while those are transforming and revolutionizing their industries. For examples, anyone who has ever used a souk, bazaar, or ‘flea market’ knows that whenever the supply of something changes from scarcity to surplus, more than just its price changes. Other significant aspects change, such as the balance of power and behaviors of buyers and sellers; the timing and the packaging or formatting of what is transacted; the very definitions of the products or services. An entire spectrum of changes occur, not just the single ‘hue’ of pricing. As people’s access and choices of news, entertainment, and information has changed from relative scarcity to surplus during the past years, an entire spectrum of change is dynamically recoloring and reshaping the media environment.

The breadth of this spectrum, as well as its dynamics and panoply of effects, is so broad that, in the postgraduate business class I teach at Syracuse University, I use an analogy which I termed New Media Chromodynamics to explain and examine it all. I borrowed the noun chromodynamics from physicists who during the 1950s, while attempting to describe the complex characteristics, dynamics, and interactions of subatomic particles such as quarks and gluons, utilized a loose analogy to colors to describe the aspects and interactions of those things, even though those particles’ exact dynamics aren’t related to the everyday phenomenon of colors that humans see. New Media Chromodynamics uses the Principle of Supply & Demand as a conceptual prism with which to refract and examine the spectrum of changes in the new media environment. It then describes the various aspects of each kind of change as a ‘color’ and groups these ‘colors’ into three primary categories according to how each individual ‘color’ or ‘color category’ affects people’s behaviors, transactions, or even the definitions of media content.

Although in this analogy, as with the visible spectrum of light refracted through a prism, the spectrum of change in the new media environment is a continuum with no exactly delineable division separating each specific ‘color’, we can nevertheless most easily understand the spectrum of change if we group its identifiable colors into primary categories, much the way physicists and photographer do with the spectrum of visible light (see Figure 1). Likewise, in some parts of the media environment, one color might appear to be stronger than the others, but no matter how luminous any one color might appear, no single color shines alone. The media environment is illuminated by all the colors of change, in various combinations and luminosities place-to-place.

The colors in the visible spectrum of light are generally placed in three color categories—reds, greens, and blues. I too use those three names as a mnemonic device in New Media Chromodynamics to signify the three major categories of media change. I also teach to my students the technical names for those categories, names which are more descriptive:

The Reds. This category of New Media Chromodynamics comprises the effects of change that color how producers and consumers of news, entertainment, and information transact such contents now that people’s choices and access to those has shifted from relative scarcity to surplus. In other words, the transactional aspects. These ‘colors’ affect anything to do with transactions of information (even if no monies are exchanged). The reason why I name this category of the reds is simply because any media company that fails to recognize and adapt to these will soon see its financial ledgers and CEO’s pallor turn that color.

The Blues. This New Media Chromodynamics category consists of all the aspects of change that color and transform the definitions and the compositions of media content. In other words, how the definitions and substance of news, entertainment, and other information indeed change now that people’s choices and access to those contents have shifted from relative scarcity to surplus. This category includes all aspects of how news, entertainment, and other information are conceived, defined, produced, and packaged. The technical name I’ve given these aspects is the definitional category, but in class I tend to call it the blues simply because many traditional media executives, media scholars, and journalists feel ‘blue’ for the ‘old days’ when the definitions and production of content weren’t changing.

The Greens. This category of New Media Chromodynamics is the most potent and potentially lucrative. It contains all the aspects of change that color how people gravitate and behave towards news, entertainment, and other information now that their choices and access to such contents have shifted from relative scarcity to surplus. Note that I use the verb gravitate in addition to the verb behave because this category concerns more than just consumers’ behaviors. Superficial or even moderate changes in an environment affect inhabitants’ behaviors, but profound changes can do much more—dooming some inhabitants, transform others, and fundamentally altering how the environment itself functions. The epochal changes underway in the media environment are that profound, changing not only how people behave with contents but the very nature of those contents’ environment. For these reasons, the technical name I’ve given these is the gravitational category of changes. Ironically, despite having had the most intense continuing effects on the media environment, it is the least studied or understood among academicians or media executives. Although most publishers and most broadcasters are assiduously concerned about how media contents are transacted and remunerated, and journalists and editors are tirelessly concerned about how those contents are defined and produced, few in the media industries are focusing on how the ways in which people gravitate towards and around contents are no longer the same ways as during previous centuries, differences far greater than just a switch in consumption from ‘analog to digital’. The irony is that if media executives and academicians would focus on this category of changes and base their definitions, productions, and transactions of contents upon its new gravity, they’ll discover the new media environment is fertile and lucrative indeed. This is why it’s the first category of changes that I teach my postgraduate students each and the first of the three New Media Chromodynamics categories that I will detail here.

In the following pages, allow me to detail the characteristic ‘colors’ comprising each of these three categories and how each is reshaping the media environment.

Most of the examples I’ll use will be from the United States of America media, partly because that post-industrial nation is the market about which I am most familiar and partly because is the world’s epicenter of these epochal changes for reasons I’ll explain. Moreover, most of the examples that I’ll use will be from the newspaper industry, again party because that is the sector of the media industries that I know best and partly because that media sector was the first (starting back when lack of broadband connectivity precluded most consumers from receiving anything but text and still photographs online) to confront the changes underway. All the aspects of change I’ll describe nonetheless affect all media industries and exist in various degrees in all other countries (although some countries more greatly than others, for reasons I’ll also explain).

Life would be easy for publishers and broadcasters and entertainment producers if consumers paid them with gold coins or large amounts of cash. Likewise, journalists’ and editors’ lives would be vastly improved if they only worked a few hours each weekday and consumers applauded when they walk the streets. Unfortunately, however, the reality for publishers, broadcasters, producers, journalists, and editors is that life is a bit more difficult than that, including learning the solutions to adjusting to the epochal changes underway in their industries. If the solutions could be distilled into just 140-character messages or a blog item around which ‘buzz’ can be machinated, the epochal problems that the media industries nowadays face would have been quickly solved.  I mention this because the Gravitational category of changes underway (i.e., the ‘Greens’) in the media environment are the most potent and important to understand but the attention spans of publishers, broadcasters, producers, journalists, and editors have become remarkably short due to the ever-accelerating pace of technological changes, the onslaught of novel micro-messaging and micro-blogging systems, and the increasing pressures media industry workers are under. If you are a publisher or a broadcast executive, I understand that you might be tempted to jump ahead to the explanation of the Transaction category (i.e., the ‘Reds’) about how the epochal changes underway effect media transactions and remunerations.  Likewise, if you’re an editor or a journalist or a producer of entertainment, you might be tempted to jump ahead to the Definitional category (i.e., the Blues’) about how the epochal changes underway effect the definition, creation and production of contents. Don’t! Resist temptations to skip too ahead, because if you don’t understand how the epochal switch from relative scarcity to surplus affects how people’s behaviors and their gravitation around media contents, you won’t later understand how this epochal change therefore affects the definitions, productions, and transactions of media contents. In other words, if you don’t understand the following section (the ‘Greens’), you’ll fail to adapt to the new media environment and you find nothing green there.

Next webpage: The Core Limitation of Mass Media

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