We are living in radically transformative times. Though mass media would not make it obvious, the pace of change is actually accelerating with the likely outcome that 2010 will be the most transformative year that the world has ever seen. While I will steer clear of making a list of 2010 predictions in a single post, I will go ahead and predict that 2010 will be the year that micropublishing crosses the chasm. Why?
- Mass media is now largely controlled — directly or indirectly — by oligarchs: If you study the ownership structure, and influence structure of mass media, it becomes clearer that there is reason why the public is being deluged with useless tripe about Tiger Woods’ obsession with white women. The US mass media is completely under reporting far more significant developments that are going on concurrently: (1) Imminent passage of the largest expansion of government since FDR under the banner of healthcare reform, (2) negotiations in Copenhagen that introduce global governance funded by a series of taxes on carbon production and economic output, and (3) Negotiations for the 2010 stimulus bill that Obama can be expected to announce at his State of the Union Address. The scale of horse trading that is in progress is likely unparalleled but the media is not reporting on it, at least not until it is a done deal.
- The economics of self publishing is getting more attractive: Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with independent publisher Ellen Brown. She self-published the book called Web of Debt which I recommend for your holiday reading list. I downloaded the ebook and am now reading it on my new Kindle — available on Epik’s product portal called eReaders.net. What is notable about Ellen’s book is that by self-publishing, she keeps 40% of cover price, and for eBooks, she keeps ~100% of the selling price. A typical publisher would give the content creator 3-7% in royalty and would also take months to go from manuscript to published work. In this fast-changing world, that is a structural advantage for the eBook publishing format. Also, Amazon is executing brilliantly with the launch of the Kindle and continued improvement of the product and platform. The eBook is a game-changer.
The stage is set for online self publishing to go mainstream — beyond free blog posts and podcasts to eBooks and on-demand video. Big name pundits are starting to get it. Here are a few recent examples that independent media is alive and well.
- Prolific author and pundit, Thomas Friedman, had a good Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times. The article speaks to the transformative impact of two converging forces: The Great Recession and what he refers to as “The Great Inflection”. The latter is really about the web. Here is the relevant synopsis: The Great Inflection is the mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies — from hand-held computers to Web sites that offer any imaginable service — plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done.
- TechCrunch had a relevant post today about the impact of micro publishing. They spin it negatively but I think the author misses the point. The more relevant article is the one that they reference in Wired.com which describes the very real scenario of large numbers of journalists quitting their day jobs and publishing independently.
So, for the moment, independent publishing and the free press is alive and well. However, make no mistake, the free press is under siege and 2010 is likely to be a pivotal year for the preservation of independent media. Independent media is at the core of “the wisdom of the crowds”. History shows that the crowd ultimately gets it right if they have the right information. However, the crowd’s capacity to get it right is a function of having access to competing views and open dissemination of fact and perspective. This is what is at risk as the media consolidates further at a time when much of the internet still operates in no-man’s land.
Implications for domainers
I believe there are three notable implications for domainers. The first one is tactical and immediate. The second and third ones are strategic and looming.
- Creators of content should be prepared to take control of their online presence. Epik owns many domains that correlate to the names of individual journalists, authors and economists, among others. Epik owns the domain name PaulKrugman.com. We picked it up on the drop. This domain is intended for one man and one man only, and that is the author and pundit Paul Krugman who blogs for the New York Times. Their publishers may seek to compel the release of these names. However, Epik’s policy is very simple. We only release a domain name to the individual that we believe logically should own the domain, and only if we receive the request personally from the individual — not their publisher, not their agent, and not their attorney. Alternatively, Epik can provide these content creators with a versatile publishing platform that integrates content monetization.
- Domainers need to be prepared to defend their rights. During 2010, I predict a global showdown that will likely envelop ICANN. Independent publishing on the internet is predicated on access to domain names (or subdomains). What if this right could be taken away? It could happen and while the United States offers its citizens First Amendment rights, if ICANN became a pillar of global governance, these rights protected by the US Constitution will go away. In other words, global governance, and the control over the issuance and tolling of domain names is a hugely important issue and transcends US norms. If global governance can create and sell carbon credits at market prices while controlling the supply of these credits, why would domain names be immune to similar dictat?
- Domainers should anticipate more radical change around content delivery: On December 4, Comcast announced that it is buying NBC Universal in a deal valued at $30 billion. This further consolidates global media delivery as did News Corp’s acquisition of Dow Jones, including the Wall Street Journal, as well as many other media assets. YouTube is a remarkable exception. The volume of independent publishing is incredible and the virality with which good content spreads is amazing. So far Google and Twitter are doing an impressive job of pushing back on censorship. However the Google founders are increasingly invisible. Google CEO, Eric Schmidt has been heavily courted by the White House. Fortunately, Mr Schmidt seems to have his heart in the right place: Net Neutrality.
Conclusion: Pay close attention
There are some very smart people with control of massive resources that would like to see the Internet be put on a very short leash. Don’t let it happen. In particular, we should pay attention to (1) who controls the pricing and issuance of domain names, (2) who controls access to the internet, and (3) anything that touches the US Constitution. The good news is that there are are lot of bright people — in the US and elsewhere — that have a vested interest in the web continuing its rapid expansion as a ubiquitous platform for the distribution of knowledge.