That’s Capital Topic: Media Economics
The trends regarding online selling being more flat, open, and personal seem to mirror well developed trends in music and porn. This isn’t said to make light of how broad these trends have become. Porn has a long history of being at the forefront of innovation in the use of media technology; this goes all the way back to using early printing press technology to make “adult” storybooks. And the widespread distribution of music by “amateurs” through digital aggregators such as CD Baby and conduits such as Kazaa foreshadowed how other media (like movies and television) could be accessed. For that matter, blogging as a way of creating, distributing, and consuming news and information fits right in the mix with these other evolving markets.
Two elements that seem important, but which the Times article didn’t address completely: the importance of “authenticity” and trust. That is, getting a face-to-face experience with someone who is “just like you” may make more sense than going for something that is slicker, but more glib, and possibly, more vacuous. This is an important aspect of the popularity of amateur porn as well as music made by a guy you can see in a bar or a church down the street. Especially when it comes to music, we think that amateurs focus on music and connecting with the audience; “making it big” and all the accoutrements that comes with it don’t matter as much as they do for big stars who have to keep record companies and an army of lawyers happy. And because we believe that this amateurs or small-time professional make something more authentic, we trust it more deeply.
There’s something else that the Times, and a lot of other writers in the popular media, missed over the last ten years as online selling has taken hold in our economy: it was never going to replace bricks-and-mortar retail. The best of the writers following this story focused on market segmentation: which persons, under which circumstances, will use online retail? I think we’re finally coming around to answering this question. Dell has finally figured out that for all the cost advantages of online-only retailing and distribution, they will never reach anything close to the masses of people that they can reach by going through bricks-and-mortar product distribution in addition to the online environment. Borders, REI, Sears, Best Buy, and others have rightly figured out that it’s better to be wherever a given consumer might find you: online or in-person. That is, make it easy for the customer to find you and your product and you’re more likely to make the sale.
Distributors of media (music, movies, television) take note: make your work available in a number of different channels. Make it easy to find, easy to access, and easy to recommend and you will see popularity grow to heretofore unknown heights.
So what part of the market will online marketing
dominate? A clue comes from one of
persons profiled in the NY Times article who wears large shoes. In other words,
hard to find items. This is something I
can tell you all about because my tastes in music run toward the obscure. Since
this is the case, I am much more likely to find the music I want to buy online
than in a store. (The exception here is the truly amazing
Amoeba Music outlet in
Because photography gives you an end product just as good and useful as what you get in-person (the picture), it shares some characteristics with porn and music. And as we’ve seen in those to media businesses, the top end of the market is being whittled away at (quickly) and the lower and middle segments of the make have grown prodigiously. So while the times focuses on the latter point, it might be useful to note what has happened at the upper end of the market, including the overhaul produced by such services as Getty Images and Pictopia. These sites use a totally different model from what works in bricks-and-clicks: they don’t go to wherever the consumer is looking; rather, they create a one-stop-shop clearinghouse that allows consumers – mostly media outlets – to find what they need in quickly and reliably in one place. Either way, though, it’s about convenience.
In both cases, photographers need to adopt new models for distribution. A few established photographers will; many will not. However, among budding photographers or those who are still learning the trade, using these tools will be as ordinary as a teenager using the computer to listen to music before using a turntable.
And as these technologies and the content they gather, distribute, and warehouse proliferate, we’ll need more sophisticated, simple, flexible, and intuitive tools for accessing just what we want when we want it. Online environments do this well in some cases (the microstock Photography companies mentioned in the Times article are one example), but are a total failure in others. (Classical music searches on Amazon are beyond a mess.) Mahalo Guides seems like a promising approach – combining the brute force power of machine-based search tools with human intuition and judgment. Further development of the approach seems love overdue, especially in the music and movies realm. As these tools improve, and become more widespread, more of us will be able to fulfill our consuming desires in whatever environment (online, in-person, or bricks-and-clicks) we prefer.