Oh, Snap! Web 2.0 is Destroying the World?
Andrew Keen was interviewed in today’s Metro Boston discussing who Web2.0 was ruining the Internet and culture in general. He states in his new book “The Cult of Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture”:
“millions of millions of exuberant monkeys … are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity,”
Keen rips apart user-generated content as a threat to existing cultural standards saying that anyone with a keyboard and a camera or a microphone can make their own news, movies or music and disseminate it on the web. The crux of his stand is that this is disintermediating Hollywood, news outlets, record labels, etc. He further states; “My fear is that if Web 2.0 continues it’s sort of idealistic rampage through mainstream media, we’re going to be left with nothing but this level playing field, and professional media is going to be undermined.”
What Keen is missing is that the cause behind the surge in user-generated media is the basic law of supply and demand. If the demand did not exist, the supply would dwindle. Why are there so few horse-drawn wagon repair shops? Because something better came along that people wanted: cars. The public constantly complains that today’s films and music, for the most part, suck. That’s not to say that there aren’t great movies and CDs being made. What is true is that many are jammed together, lowest-common-denominator targeted rehashing packaged for mass consumption. There wouldn’t be a half-dozen independent film channels if the public was happy with the available cinema. Certainly the latest Shrek or Fantastic Four has it’s audience (me for one), and a large one at that. But the public is fragmenting by choice. They are no longer willing to accept what they are force fed and are looking elsewhere for entertainment that touches them on a deeper level. I heard recently, so it may not be true, that most movies lose money. This is most likely due to the enormous operating costs of the studio, actors, special effects, directors, marketing, etc. Yet a little movie like the Blair Witch Project, made for $60,000, made over $29 million in it’s opening weekend. This was filmed with a small crew and limited cast, virtually no special effects, unless you count flashlights, and was marketed on the web by it’s writer and director. Blair Witch 2 was made for $15 million and made only $13 million it’s opening weekend. This one was made by a major production company. By the way, the original gets an 8 out of 10 stars rating while the major studio version got only 2 out of 10 stars.
There is a serious movement to abandon network news and news paper outlets in favor of consumer-generated news, blogs or the BBC. Many feel that due to their focus on the bottom line, network news agencies are focusing more on local drama or celebrity gossip than international news. As a musician, you don’t want me to get started on what record labels have been pushing. Keen says “I think record lables historically have found and polished marvelous talent.” Is he kidding?! Does he listen to the schlock on the radio? Are the Britney’s of the world really marvelous talent? Let’s not forget the Paris Hilton CD. This is typical of record company offerings. You don’t get very many White Stripes, Tools or Dave Mathews. Whether you like bands like this or not, they are quality musicians, writing quality music and releasing quality CDs. Not pre-packaged tarts with a crew of 50 year-old songwriters and mixing board gurus that represents a majority of record company releases. What he additionally fails to mention is the financial structire of record companies. Most bands don’t even make money from their CDs, the record companies keep it. Most must rely on ticket and t-shirt sales.
If anyone is killing our culture it is the very few that sit at the top of the heap of news outlets, record companies and film companies. They are the ones who continue to push watered-down, titilating, bland a rehashed content. By doing so they are creating a need that will only be filled by independents, consumer generators, etc. Consumer generated content will never be mainstream, it will always be nitch due to the very nature of it’s fragmented targeting. This blog will never be read by the millions that read the New York Times. I’l lbe lucky if it is read by dozens. But what blogs, YouTube videos, Virb bands etc. do for our culture, besides filling the need left by Big Media, is to keep those guys on their toes. It has always been true that the underground becomes the main stream once the big corporations figure out a way to monetize it. That’s not a bad thing. Once Nirvana started selling millions of records and made it to the Grammy’s, it created a new counter culture that hated grunge.
It’s cyclical and circular.
Unfortunately it seems like Andrew Keen and his supporters only see a curved line. Smart marketers like those at NBC and the other networks are taking advantage of technology that wouldn’t exist, web video, or be popular if consumers hadn’t been pushing forward it all along. Even the big media magazine Time realizes the importance of the consumer. Keen seems to feel that it is big media’s job to give consumers what big media thinks is appropriate. This is like a parent talking to a child. Consumers want a conversation. They’ll give their hard earned dollars to big media, only if big media listens to them, and gives them what they’re asking for. I wonder how Keen would feel if he went to an ice cream stand and was automatically given chocolate or vanilla. What if he wanted orange sherbet? What if the kids across the street from the ice cream parlor started selling home made sherbet? Should they be stomped out because they were destroying the culture of vanilla and chocolate? They may put the parlor out of business, the business may buy them out, but one thing is for sure, we all benefit from the choices being offered.