The Soviet Era In Digital Media Is Over

The Soviet Era In Digital Media Is Over

Earlier this month, Say Media announced that it will exit the business of being a publisher and focus solely on technology. Digiday commented, “Say never achieved the size needed to compete,” at 35 million unique visitors monthly.

Only 35 million? Digiday’s comment may reflect how online publishers see their business today – a relentless drive for scale – but I believe it represents a profound misunderstanding of digital media. Counts of visitors and impressions are the wrong metric. They measure tonnage, not connections. Recognizing that digital advertising impressions are literally infinite, the key metrics of the 21st century media business will capture meaningful connections with real people.

The 20th century media business was a Soviet-style, top-down economy in which neither consumers nor advertisers had much choice. Have you ever wondered how Hollywood and the TV studios could invest so many millions and deliver so much really bad product time after time after time? Just like the Soviets, the studios didn’t have to produce good products when they made the only products in town. And in a one-size-fits-all Soviet economy, a simple count of units, viewers or impressions is all that’s needed.

Then the internet arrived with the promise of endless variety and choice. Consider these two statistics from

  • over 3 billion people use the internet today
  • over 1.1 billion websites exist

That’s one website for every three users! What’s the relevant CPM for that? Obviously, the Web doesn’t begin with that question in mind. Incredible resources have been created with no monetization plan at all, including email, blogs, Web browsers, Google, YouTube, Facebook and, well, the entire internet itself. Facebook is retrofitting itself for traditional advertising revenue and, in the process, slowly strangling itself in contradictions. It’s a metaphor for the entire digital media business.

I believe that internet publishers can and will make money. Some will grow into large enterprises. But they’ll do it by starting with the genius of the internet: It’s personal. It challenges us to think and speak for ourselves. It connects us with who and what we love. It fosters communities of interest so specific that they could never have existed before, because the like-minded community members had no way to find each other and no means to share their interests and passions. Those connections are what we really care about, and they are the starting point for a new media business model.

The 21st century media business must be based on passion and personal connections. It won’t be built by trying to retrofit the 20th century’s mass-produced, tonnage-based Soviet media model. That’s like suggesting that we rebuild the Berlin Wall.

Instead of aiming at 35 million sports fans, or even football fans, let’s build media for the 35,000 passionate followers of professional women’s football. I’d rather monetize that audience any day.

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