Intermodal Media

Yesterday I noted that the 2002 Economic Census categorizes the Information industry as a manufacturing endeavor, and argued that we should view media in the same light. I ended by tossing off the remark that media should also be thought of as multimodal. By that I mean that a publishers, especially Mini Media types, will no longer produce in print or broadcast or web formats. Instead, they’ll dispense content in different forms — web pages, podcasts, video clips, print vehicles — whatever is convenient for their customers and makes them a buck. It is obvious that the old silos for selling information are breaking down. Newspapers, radio and television stations have web sites. They’re experimenting with new delivery systems to repurpose their info-wares and attract new audiences.
It follows that new media firms, created from the ground up, should start with the assumption that their audience is their business — their business is not the publishing modalities they use to reach that audience. The way I see it, a blog or a website is a low cost customer attraction platform. It’s relatively cheap place to paste information, and if you attract hits, well, there are also web-advertising systems that can offer some revenues based on the traffic they draw. But for most sites it isn’t much. By some accounts, most bloggers are making $50 a month from ad traffic, and only the biggest sites reach $5,000 a month in ad revenues. Niche publishers, therefore, should not expect to support themselves from online ads, even though they will probably have a free, online presence. Instead they may find it makes sense to create special low-run print magazines that contain more detailed information than that available on their web sites, or merely gather a month’s worth of postings into a convenient form of reference. (As I argued in a previous posting, not only does technology makes it possible to produce low-run magazines of high quality; I also think there we can sell advertisers on combined print-web ad campaigns.) Likewise, other media forms such as podcasting may be used to cement the bonds of loyalty between the audience and the site, or attract new viewers. (I came across an essay by marketing maven Shelly Palmer that made exactly this point but there’s no easy link to it.) Or maybe emails or RSS feeds or PDF files are the better ways to get out whatever words or images your business sells. The point is to think about new media businesses in a systematic way: as a target audience, which presumably wants certain forms of information, entertainment or data, delivered in a variety of ways, each supported by some revenue stream — or else consciously served up for free in a bid to gather traffic for some compensable product or service. When I thought about the term “multimodal media” I actually had in mind the transportation industry. Nowadays most cargo travels in containers that can be easily moved from ships, to trains to trucks, as appropriate. It turns out that transportation gurus use the term “intermodal” to describe this expectation that cargo will have to move through different conveyances to reach its destination. Substitute media for cargo and I think the same expectation applies in this new era of publishing.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media