guest post by Chris Baskind
I'm going to be honest here. When Valeria asked me to write a Media guest column to cover her holiday vacation, I began tooling up a piece titled How the Web Is Old Media's Afghanistan. I ground out a decent lead, and shot it to my prospective editor on Skype.
"I never liked war as a marketing metaphor," came the deflating reply.
And therein lies the peril of metaphor: No matter how cleverly you compare two different things, they remain two different things.
She's right. Marketing may resemble warfare from time to time, but if you play by the rules of war -- dividing commerce into winners and losers -- you will eventually be defeated. The relationships which are the true foundation of marketing have always been consensual. Misunderstand this in this, the Age of Limitless Choices, and you're cooked.
Misreading the terrain
Happily, this is another way of looking at the basic errors being made by traditional players as the creep toward our web-based future. Take Rupert Murdoch. You got to have balls of steel to tell Google to take their search traffic elsewhere, which I'm convinced he's actually prepared to do.
In the twilight years of Old Media, the wily old tycoon is ready to bet his content is sufficiently compelling that people will seek it out and pay for it, rather than rely on the largesse of Brin and Page's brainchild to deliver readers and potential advertising revenue.
He's correct, people will pay. But he's also going to be disappointed if he thinks he can recreate the monolithic nature of Old Media on the web. The terrain is simply too vast -- its borders are porous, and profit isn't the only thing motivating the other actors in the field (you can now see where my abortive Afghanistan metaphor was headed).
For every big-dollar, high-overhead asset like FOX News, there's a thicket of Little Green Footballs. For every 20th Century FOX, there's some 16-year-old kid pulling down a couple million views on YouTube with a video produced on a camera phone. For every Wall Street Journal, there are thousands of financial bloggers plugging away for glory or whatever small fortune they may find.
In short, pretty much any content that can be sold on the web is being offered for free. Not everything, but enough that we're unlikely to see on the web the concentration of influence and wealth which dominates traditional media.
So what will people pay for?
This isn't to say content is worthless -- quite the opposite. But with so much quality material at hand, people will be looking for ways to make its selection as simple and painless as possible. They'll find this in brands (which is, incidentally, Murdoch's best play -- bundling content, rather than selling a la carte).
The brands they will choose will be the ones they trust, and trust is the end product of a consistent and transparent relationship between producer and consumer. As Valeria wrote recently:
Trust is earned. Trust is more valuable than gold. People will pay for it. And if you're working to earn it now, you're already creating equity in the next economy.
So back to basics we go, whether we're attempting to build empires or playing the role of market insurgent. The game is the same, and it's the quality of your name.
Whatever product or service you must say grace over, there's somebody out there with the same thing -- only cheaper. But they can't discount the trust you develop with your potential customers. In a real sense, trust is the currency of the next media economy.
Chris Baskind is the editor of More Minimal and Lighter Footstep. He also assists other publishers with site and audience development. Before turning to Interactive, Chris spent 30 years programming and marketing radio stations. In January, he'll debut a new site exploring the intersection of environmentalism, technology, and quality-of-life issues. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.