Mass Media Becomes a New Niche

Although you might call a magazine’s Web site a new medium for the magazine’s content, the likelihood is that the Web site is just a platform for shovelware from the magazine’s printed edition. In contrast to shovelware and other new forms of old media, new media are new forms that transcend the inherent limitations of mass media.

Let’s use a transportation analogy. Before 1903, if you wanted to travel, you had two main options: land (e.g., horses, carts, wagons, trains, bicycles, automobiles, buses) or water (e.g., rafts, canoes, sailboats, steamships, submarines).

The situation in communication media (or, as some people label it, modes) was somewhat similar until a decade or so ago. You could customize the message you communicated, but only for one person at a time. Otherwise, you could send exactly the same message to everyone. The choice was between mutually reciprocal advantages and disadvantages.

You could communicate in a mode that let you customize your message to each person’s unique interests. To do so, you would communicate via the telephone (i.e., telemarketing) or postal mail (i.e., direct marketing).

Or you could communicate with a large number of people at once, but only using a common message (or edition or program). Your communication vehicles for doing so were books, newspapers, radio, and television. Bespoke (define) versus mass. Individualization versus reach.

Yet just as the Wright Brothers’ invention in 1903 transcended the mutually reciprocal limitations of land and water transportation, the inventions of digital and interactive technologies have transcended the mutual reciprocal limitations. It’s now possible to individualize content on mass levels. That is the new medium.

I don’t mean personalization as the direct mail industry traditionally uses the term (“Dear Vin: You have been preapproved for the Bank of Albania MasterCard…”). I mean true individualization of the entire content in ways that the consumer herself controls.

Take Facebook for example. With 90 million active users, Facebook is certainly mass media in scale and reach. Yet each of those 90 million users sees something different than every other user. Each sees a site customized to their demographics, unique mix of interests, choice of friends, and so on. The contents of Facebook are mass customized.

This is the new medium — individualization on a mass scale. It matches its editorial content and advertising to each of its users’ individual interests much better than traditional media ever can. And if it exactly matches editorial content and advertising to each of its consumers’ needs and interests, it will be better and more heavily utilized than traditional media. Facebook, MySpace, and others are only precursors of what the new media will be.

After all, when was the last time you took a ship to another continent or a crossed a continent by train? Just as the technology-based new medium of air travel revolutionized transportation, so should this new medium of mass customization of content revolutionize communications and the media industries.

Call it the new medium or the new media. Either way, general-interest mass media becomes a new niche.

Join us for ClickZ Presents: Online Marketing Summit, September 25 at the Sheraton San Diego.

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