Niche Common Denominator

At a dinner with tech industry friends in San Francisco last night the talk turned to the continuing enfeeblement of mass media through criticism of its supposed “liberal” bias coupled with the leakage of ad revenue to new media. I lamented on a familiar theme: as new media, which are entirely ad-supported, grow at the expense of old media, which derive at least some cash and courage from subscriptions, content will get fluffier and devolve to the least common denominator. Another speaker challenged me (sorry didn’t get his name), saying people are paying for media — but it’s niche media as in cable and magazine. “It’s niche common denominator,” interjected Nina Davis, and we all thought that quite witty.

But at my breakfast (and blogging)table this morning I saw more evidence of the fluff factor in a report about a new woodworking site being launched by the Scripps Network.

There’s no shortage of ad-supported niches in the creature comfort category. But how will issue- or idea-based media derive support? I recently came across Goodstorm a San Francisco outfit that helps activist groups generate dollars by, for instance, producing t-shirts with slogans that can be sold or given in exchange for donations. Stephanie Olson profiled Goodstorm on CNet. I mentioned it on the Technology Chronicle blog (where I actually get paid to do this stuff!). So I guess the issue-support infrastructure is building … slowly.

Meanwhile, in the last word department, MediaPost offered this report from a recent conference:

“Fee-based media services of all kinds will increasingly give way to ad-supported models … ‘People are going through subscription burnout,’ said Andy Lipset, managing partner of Ronning Lipset Radio. ‘The telephone company’s looking for X amount of dollars, the cable company’s looking for more, you’ve got all these things coming after you. And eventually as everyone is reaching in their pocket for five dollars, it gets to the point where the consumer says, ‘enough is enough’.”

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