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Panpa Bulletin : November December 2006
November--December 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 35 Watching media users become "produsers" The business models for much of Aus- tralia's mass media need radical surgery. That was the conclusion of several speakers at the first meeting of the interna- tional Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR) held in Australia. Professor Arne Krokan of Norway's University of Science and Innovation consults to media groups in Scandinavia. He said newspaper companies around the world had been slow to benefit from the digital revolu- tion because managers did not understand business models appropriate for the digital economy. These models involved debundling and re- bundling of content to cater for digital natives (the people whom Murdoch described in his watershed speech in April last year). An example of debundling would be mak- ing available on the internet a single song from a CD or a single article from a newspa- per. Rebundling involves joining diverse parts of the overall product after debundling and making it available on different platforms. In media this is most commonly known as convergent journalism. Australia's media companies, like their colleagues around the world, tend to move dated content from the daily newspaper to websites. This is not rebundling, but shovelling. Newspapers also refuse to debundle in the physical world. As soon as you buy your Saturday newspapers you discard the recruitment, cars and real estate sections without opening them. It's the same with share price listings or form guides with other newspapers I buy. Why not sell single and separate sections of the paper? At weekends some people might only want to buy the features or busi- ness sections. Granted they have more time to read at weekends, but people still like to exercise choice. And where are the indexes to help me navigate? Too many newspapers waste valuable editorial space by printing weather maps on the back page when they should be providing a guide to the content inside. Each month I gather the 50 to 60 newspa- pers I bought the previous month and take them to my town's recycle area. I would pay the same cover price to get a slimmed down weekend edition. It would put less stress on my back carrying all that unread paper and like many people I would feel happier know- ing a few trees have been saved. But I digress from Professor Krokan's wisdom. "Technologies exist to unbundle news- paper content and enable micro-payments online or via mobile phones, but they have not been embraced," Professor Krokan said. People are willing to pay for single songs via iTunes and other online music shops. A song can be replayed and enjoyed several times. Would this happen with single pieces of newspaper content? Perhaps the answer is a reflection of the quality of some newspaper writing, that people only want to read it once. Or perhaps they perceive newspaper content as ephemeral, the sort of mindset that sees newsprint as wrapping paper for tomorrow's fish and chips. Much of the success in the digital world relates to perception as much as reality. Professor Krokan said convergent tech- nologies permitted new media services. It was important here to understand the whole picture or context. "We need to take into consideration a range of factors, including available technologies, changing markets and consumer behaviours, the influence of geography (local is becoming highly popular because of its ability to provide unique content), consumers' knowledge and competence, variations of culture, and digital business models." The main driving forces in the digital economy were convergent technologies, changing consumer behaviour and deter- ritorialisation. In the last case, this is where multi-national companies sell into domestic markets. "Amazon sells more books in my country than the combined sales of the three largest Norwegian bookstores. The market is worth about US$20 million." An example of convergent technologies is IPTV, or television available over fast broad- band, which undermined the business model of commercial free-to-air TV networks. Newspapers had started to offer services beyond news to align with changing consum- er desires. One of the most popular sections of some European newspapers is a weight watchers' club, for example. Professor Krokan said another feature of digital services was the blurring of the roles of consumers and producers. Consumers were fast becoming producers of content. "In Norway, people take videos with their mobile phones and post them to the web." Axel Bruns of QUT said citizen journalism provided an example of this blurring of roles, for which he had coined the term "produ- sage". A variety of citizen journalism models have emerged, but "produsage" has some key characteristics. These included content generated by average citizens, limited edito- rial oversight, continuous updating, more comment and debate than in mainstream media, and multiple perspectives for stories, Dr Bruns said. Some of the best-known examples in- cluded OhMyNews in South Korea, Kuro5hin, Plastic.com, and the Al Gore-funded Current TV. "We see constant and collaborative evolv- ing of content," Dr Bruns said. Progressive media such as the BBC were adapting their business models to accommo- date changing audiences, and this provided an example of "harvesting the hive" - taking advantage of the vast content that citizen journalists produced. But the long-term eco- nomic sustainability of this model remained a "significant question", he said. Professor John Hartley of QUT said the business model for broadcasting needed "a makeover". "Broadcasting as we know it is over," he said. TV was heading into a post- broadcast phase, driven by the internet. "Mass media do not last forever. Some simply go away, like the magic lantern." Young people were becoming "produsers" via the internet at sites like MySpace, Flickr and YouTube. Australia needed faster broadband services to accommodate this change. "We must revise our view of creativity," says Hartley, "and revise the broadcast model of creativ- ity, which leaves the general public sprawled brainlessly on the couch." Stephen Quinn, PhD, is the associate professor of journalism at Deakin University, Australia. TECHNOLOGY MATTERS As the content on which the print industry has built its business broadens and fragments, the traditional lines between journalist and reader are fast blurring, writes Stephen Quinn. "We must revise the broadcast model of creativity, which leaves the general public sprawled brainlessly on the couch."