Of Marx and Media
The current paroxysms in trade media were foretold by Karl Marx 150 years ago.
Marxist doctrine has it that socioeconomic change is driven by technological improvements in the means of production. As the technology in use becomes increasingly advanced, it triggers schisms in the structure of society, which eventually manifest as a revolution — resulting in a new means of production under new ownership.
Applied to our own trade media industry, the parallels are clear: Traditional media businesses (print, events, video) have been massively disrupted by the advent of the internet, which completely blew up the traditional “means of production” by allowing users to not only find the information they need, for free, on the web, but also to self-publish through social media and other channels.
The resulting revolution was supposed to free end users from the shackles of exploitation and oppression imposed by 20th century publishers, creating a 21st century egalitarian “knowledge society,” one defined by collective ownership of web-based information.
But it is at this point that Marxist theory goes awry, just as it did when put into practice by communist states around the world.
Communism didn’t work because it assumed that the members of society would be happy to participate in a system where all shared equally. Turns out humans are an unpleasant and grasping species, predisposed to always wanting more than the next fellow (and quite comfortable treading on their faces to climb to the top of the pile and get at it).
Similarly, and from the perspective of consumers of B2B news and analysis, the internet doesn’t work because 99 percent of the content on it is unfiltered, unedited, unreliable, and, well, a bit shit, really (and finding the 1 percent of quality out of the whole is almost impossible).
This situation — a chaotic market, where the incumbents have been disrupted, and the consumers are unhappy — presents agile, entrepreneurial publishers with a huge opportunity.
To borrow further from Comrade Marx, society has proceeded through various stages over the last 200 years — from an agrarian society where the means of production is the soil and the shovel, to an industrial society (mines and factories), to the information society (the internet).
The opportunity, for those with the aggression and ambition to grasp it, is to support the evolution to a new intelligence society. The digital means of production are at hand. The online community model pioneered by my company, Light Reading — which combines digital content with the knowledge and relationships intrinsic to specific industries — is emerging as the most effective way to deliver useful, reliable, curated information to the right audience.
For 21st century B2B publishers, the community approach will be essential to helping their customers achieve business success in a way that drives the significant, sustainable, and highly profitable revenue that has been missing from the B2B sector since the fadeout of the 20th century media models.
It may not be Marxist, but it will work.