What is this Mini Media Foolishness?

Why should online content creators form a community? What would such a community do and how might it come together? For about a year I’ve been blogging with these questions in mind. These questions arose from a business plan that I started in February 2003. “Mini media” is the metaphor that tries to boils all this down into a slogan. So let me share some ideas that have been brewing for a while.

Independent publishers have three reasons to form a community: to enhance their economic strength; to increase their productive power; and to create a lobby to protect their interests.

Creating strength through unity:
We live in a free agent world. Large companies everywhere are trying to shed full-time employees. This may be even more true for media than other industries. Media has always had freelancers and independent artists and producers. In such an environment stars prosper. But solid producers lack any market power beyond their personal reputations and networks of contacts. Forming a community of media producers is not going to feed the unskilled or the untalented. Nor will it necessarily play the role of a labor union. But a group of small producers can draft standard contracts with terms more favorable to freelancers, and create forums in which to expose bad behavior by big media. At very least a producer community would allow independent media types create a group health plan.

Finding skilled partners on an ad-hoc basis:
New technologies make it possible for individuals and small teams to make media that would never have been possible before. But will these mini producers will have all the skills they’ll need to succeed as business people? Talented artists may need post-production help. Writers may need to hook up with photographers. And everyone who hopes to make a living from media will need technologists to create effective web sites, salespeople to develop new markets, publicists and accountants and all the other functions peripheral to the artistry but essential to business. Surely we’re not all supposed to acquire all these skills ourselves. A community of media producers could establish forums in which to advertise help wanted or offered, and create codes of conduct that would allow unknown collaborators to work together in an environment of relative trust — and if someone does blow a contract at least give the complaining party a venue to expose bad actors.

A lobby for small producers.
One of the myths of the modern age is that new media are more “democratic.” Technologically speaking this is true. But from an organizational or commercial standpoint the Internet and the Web are closer to feudalism than democracy. The hardware backbone is controlled by big corporations. They only want you to vote with your pocketbooks. (Internet software protocols are perpetuated by the Internet Engineering Task Force, a singular group that is akin to a council of technology wizards; their technical and moral authority has, so far, kept the interoperability of the Web from imploding under the weight of corporate self-interest.) But when governments and standard-setting bodies make new rules to deal with new media, small producers should be prepared to state and protect their own interests.

(I’ll have more to say, especially about how such a producer group might come together, but not this morning. I have to get into work and, in any event the folks in the wireless cafe where I’ve been typing are on the verge of charging me rent!)

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

Note: an earlier version had a different headline