Tag Archives: New Medium

EPublishing Innovations Forum 2008

My opening keynote speech at the 2008 EPublishing Innovations Forum, London, May 7th

Thanks, David! Two linguistic notes before I begin.

First, please forgive my Yank accent. My great-grandfather Crosbie, who was born in London, would wince at it.

Second, doe anyone here speak Chinese? I ask because, after people who read English, the second largest linguistic group online today is people who read Chinese. To make sure they benefit from my speech, I took the title that the conference organizers suggested – Thriving in the digital age: threats and opportunities for digital publishers – and put that into Google’s English-to-Chinese translation engine. Then, just to make sure that I got the Chinese version right, I took that result and put it into Yahoo’s Chinese-to-English translation engine. The resulting title is Watts that you say? Screw Gutenberg, the Change Underway is Even Larger. So that’s what I’m going to talk about.

Gutenberg. The Screw. Watt. And why the changes today underway are even larger than during Gutenberg. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain the screw.)

Here is a slide of Gutenberg in Strasbourg. His statue in bronze and a target today for pigeons. He’s also a target for quotes about the Internet. My guess is that you’ve all heard most the quotes before:

‘The Internet is the biggest things since Gutenberg.’
‘The change underway will be the biggest since Gutenberg.’
‘The Internet will change things as much as Gutenberg did.’

Well, don’t get me wrong: Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press probably sparked the Renaissance. Yet it’s time we understand something: The change today underway is even larger!

The change now underway is bigger than mass production was for the medieval calligraphers and scribes who Gutenberg’s invention put out of work. Moreover, it’s not just a change from production of single calligraphic editions to mass production of millions of books. What is underway is an intellectual jump. It’s a quantum jump in how information is distributed to people and how they find information.

I’ve lately become an academic, and in academia we have a technical term for the magnitude of the change today underway. It is an academic term that combines Norman French and Anglo-Saxon. We call it a Mindf*ck.

It’s like a jump from two to three dimensions. And from this new dimension arises phenomenal new opportunities for publishers. Opportunities we’ll talk about.

Unfortunately, most publishers today still think only in the old two dimensions – and therein lay the only threat to their livelihoods. Their failure to understand the new dimension underway in publishing is the threat. Understand me: The only threat is not to understand the change underway.

Let’s go back in time for a moment. The U.K. Statistics Office says there are more than 10,000 Britons who are more than 100 years old. In 1908, the streets outside this hotel, and all the streets of London, were full of horse carriages and horse carts. Though the 20th Century was new then, people nevertheless knew that the 21st Century would be a mechanized age despite the abundance of horses.

The early automobiles showed promise. Telephones were beginning to become common in offices and homes. Tesla and Marconi were each experimenting with something that would eventually be called radio. Yet nobody knew how quickly all those things would affect London’s seven million people, one million horses, 25 daily newspapers. Also, more esoteric and far-reaching things were also being developed in 1908. Things like quantum mechanics, which would later give us devices such as television, the transistor, the computer, the laser, and the CD, DVD, etc.

Today in 2008, people still get information distributed on paper pulp or from analog broadcast transmitters that fundamentally have changed little since Marconi’s time. Nevertheless, we know that our new century will be an all- digital age. An age of pervasive information. If the personal computer and mobile phone were our equivalents of the newfangled telephones and automobiles for people 100 years ago, so too can we now foresee things that are only recently being and invented, things we’re starting to have a clue that will shape the 21st century.

The one million horses were gone from London’s streets by 1920, only a dozen years’ after 1908. Likewise, the changes between now and 2020 will be phenomenal. If you think that you’ve seen change during the past dozen years, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

I’ve a bold agenda this morning. My job is to tell you how much things will change and explain the general themes and opportunities in those changes for publishers in the 21st century.

  • I will explain why 1.3 billion people have gravitate online despite their already having access to mass media in much more convenient formats than online.
  • I will explain why the fragmentation of audiences is an illusion.
  • I will explain why traditional newspapers’ and news magazines’ circulations, and news broadcasts’ viewerships, must ineluctably evaporate. And the reason is not because people don’t want news.
  • I will explain why most newspapers’ and news magazines’ and news broadcasters’ Web sites won’t save their companies. (In other words, why what you here in British publishing circles are calling the Rusbridger Cross won’t occur.)
  • And I’ll explain why people will be even better served by New Media than by Mass Media. In other words, why the change today is even greater than that during Gutenberg’s era.

That’s an ambitious agenda, so let’s begin.

Continue reading EPublishing Innovations Forum 2008

What is 'New Media' (redux)


[I earlier this week wrote that:

    The radical changes the newspaper industry needs to implement arise from a more true understanding by that industry of why newspaper readership began declining well before the Internet was opened to the public; about why one billion people worldwide have gone onto the Internet after it was opened to the public (they didn’t do it to read traditional media on computer screens), and about why all that plus the misnamed and illusionary ‘fracturing’ of media audiences requires semantic solutions.

At the root of that problem is a misunderstanding about what the New Medium actually is; a misunderstanding by almost all companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines.

I’ve long been reluctant to explain this misunderstanding only because I’ll need a long post to explain it. This is that post, a new version of my 1998 essay What is New Media? (which is currently being taught in the journalism, film, technology, and game design courses at several universities in North America and Europe). It’s 3,200-words long, but I consider it the most important thing I have ever written except for the original essay. I need to have this new version online because I plan to refer to it in future postings, specifically those about what radical changes that media companies need to implement.]

Misunderstanding ‘New Media’

A newspaper isn’t a medium, nor are newspapers media. Magazines aren’t media nor is a magazine a medium. Television isn’t a medium nor is radio nor are radio or television stations media. A website isn’t a medium nor is the Internet media.

Companies that broadcast programs or that publish newspapers or magazines are having problems understanding and adapting to why and how one billion consumers are now using Internet-based technologies to receive news, information, and entertainment.

Those companies have the problems simply because they misunderstand the meaning of media or medium. It is that starkly simple. Their misunderstanding of these terms– not the new technologies that consumers use — is the root of the companies’ problems.

Ask their executives if they work in the ‘Mass Media‘ (the Mass Medium) and they will be correct if they reply yes. But almost all will take that a step further — a misstep — and say that their broadcast, newspaper, or magazine is a medium.

Rhetoricians and cognitive linguists refer to that extra step as metonymy: the use of a well-understood or easy-to-perceive characteristic of something to stand for either a much more complex whole or for some aspect or part of it. (Another example of metonymy is use of the name Hollywood to describe the entire film industry worldwide)

Broadcast and publishing executives mistake Mass Media as a catchall phrase for all possible media, as if no other medium can exist except as a Mass Medium. Moreover, they extend this mistaken meaning of medium to cover their own broadcasts or publications.

So entrenched has the contemporary misunderstanding of the terms media and medium become that the mistake limits the abilities of most publishing or broadcasting executives to comprehend what exactly is a medium or the media in which they work.

So, what are media, what is a medium?

Continue reading What is 'New Media' (redux)