The Unconcentrated Media1

Thu 6/19/2008 3:15 pm. I was reading the media column in The Tabloid of Record (NY Post) where there was discussion on the lucky fellow who was going to take-over the 5-million-hits-a-month (a fortnight? whatever....) Maxim website.

But they’re confused; it’s not that way, and it’s not going to be that way. ... More-or-less traditionally, industry “concentrates” in the mature stage; i.e. General Motors, Microsoft. The progress from the days of wild startups to such concentrations is known and predictable. And so the Post’s media column just assumes that will happen to the web sites on the internet, and that Maxim was a likely contender. ... But it won’t be that way; Maxim and other websites may be wildly successful, but the dust will never clear, and there won’t ever be a few big sites left standing....

For one thing, print media at least has never had the concentration tendencies of other industries, because paper is cheap. Perceived concentration during the post-war era was mostly the result of drastically successful competition from television. ... Television requires considerable investment and hence should be a “maturable” concentrated industry and indeed was; helped along, both print and TV, by large dollops of government regulation.

But the jig is up! Internet media is a lot like both newspapers, magazines, and TV — except the product costs almost nothing!2 Vast efforts on behalf of “push”, “portals” and most recently “rss feeds” have tried to convert the thing into a broadcast medium; but consumers prefer to select their web sites. So while a successful web site can spend money on more servers to make its product more attractive, it can’t spend a penny on retaining customers! Except by providing a competitive product3 — and the whole point of concentration is to avoid such unpleasantness....


In a way it’s like our society is devolving. ... Back through the 20th century and the erection of the great “authoritative” media sources like the New York Times, Life and Time magazine, and finally the three TV networks. These institutions are unravelling, certainly faster than they were made, and we wander rapidly back through the 19th century to the 18th, when if you bothered getting news, it was from a coffee shop or limited-circulation journals.

Fortunately our internet coffee shops and limited-circulation journals still have instantaneous communication, video and sound — but we are doomed to not knowing what information is trustworthy anymore. ... We’ll have to decide for ourselves!

... I was listening to Limbaugh the other afternoon explaining how if the current expert analysis holds, they’ll be hunting Republicans with dogs after the 2008 elections. Limbaugh is father of new media if anyone is, even if he broadcasts on the quaint relatively low-investment antique radio waves, but even he betrayed a nostalgia for central authority — even ’though it was presumably against his propaganda inclinations, he felt obliged to report the “mainstream” conclusion; it was his duty to his listeners to tell them what official experts thought.

But I doubt anyone knows in any meaningful way how the election “is likely” to go, even less than they used to. ... The experts depart; there is no “the media” anymore; it’s just media, and anyone can do it....

1. Note that my startlingly lucid analysis entirely excludes actual businesses like Amazon — which case would seem to demonstrate that concentration occurs faster on the web! ... Amazon and others have to spend money on warehouses etc., which efforts benefit from economies of scale, with resulting concentration.

2. Content creation — making stuff that people will actually wish to consume — is a problem both the web and cable TV suffer from. And it’s not likely to get any better. The transcendent cunning of You Tube, to provide a way that their consumers could create their content, seems difficult to duplicate.

3. Actually of course advertising can be used to try and drive visitors to a web site; but since the web site is trying to sell advertising, this is of limited utility.