Friday, November 16, 2007

"Launching a Magazine the Un-Dumb Way"

Derek has inspired me to crawl out of my coding dungeon for a moment or two with this:
The magazine business was built on gatekeepers. To get a magazine into a store requires working with a chain of middlemen, each adding to the final cost. The math just didn’t work unless you have huge numbers. So to get them, you dumb down the content and pray for ads. In the end, the magazine becomes more about securing eyeballs for advertisers than serving the community that inspired it in the first place.

The internet allows consumers and creators to connect directly. So for the first time, it’s possible to skip those middlemen. Putting ink to papers is always going to be more costly than putting pixels to screen, but now that a group of talented people can collaborate, create, and sell directly to consumers, it’s actually possible to jump the middlemen - a community can support its own content creation. (This is a lesson the record labels, TV execs, and WGA members are in the process of learning right now.)

Derek Powazek – Launching a Magazine the Un-Dumb Way

I love this. And we can say similar things about many businesses, not just the magazine business (though how the mag biz has avoided the crushing inevitability of Web-enabled opportunity thus far escapes me).

We should remember, though, that gatekeepers and middlemen don't appear out of mere greed, but also need. Where there are barriers in place, entrepreneurs (aka, middlemen-wannabes) surface to overcome them. In today's Web world it may be hard to imagine that some of the old-business gatekeepers actually added value, but they did make things possible that weren't before.

We just happen to live in the time of the emergence of the Web. The Web makes it easy to overcome certain kinds of technical challenges (access to markets, services, distribution), and make certain classes of middlemen obsolete. However when certain hurdles are overcome, we know we will inevitably come upon more. The new gatekeepers may be young but they are gatekeepers nonetheless, and in time their previously empowering value will be seen as a limiting form of control. Google? eBay? Amazon? Gatekeepers.

Entrepreneurial opportunities are safe for a while, I think :-).

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