Mass Media Vs. Niche Media

I rather like having discussions with Mitch Joel, he gives me good food-for-thought.   That’s because we grew up in different times – I have only known a digital society, he has seen both a digital and analog.  Due to this we tend to look at things through a different lens.

Previously when he argued print is not dead, I made the point that it may not be dead, but it’s on life support and that digital is now the master copy.

Mitch wrote something else that struck me recently.  He made several different points so I’m going to respond to a few parts bit by bit:

Imagine a world without Mass Media (which is something that many “Social Media Experts” are talking about). The only way that you would find out about anything is through your own newsfeed or the people you are following in spaces like Twitter and Facebook. Can this be the best way to get a full perspective about anything?

Not sure this makes much sense – my newsfeed/reader is made up of a variety of forms of media, including “mass” media, whatever that means.

Twitter or Facebook are not what is replacing the popular media outlets of yesterday.  They’re just specific media brands/tools anyway if you think about it, these examples themselves don’t actually matter.  Specific tools are not what is replacing a previous generation of media.  The internet as a whole is.  The web itself represents all media as all the world’s information becomes digitized, semantic and accessible.  The internet is the future home of all content.

I’ve already weighed in on the social media expert thing, so let’s skip that part (hey Mitch – why so angry with “social media experts” anyway – just ignore them) and get to the meat of this.  The idea of mass media isn’t going away, it’s evolving.  Consider that if the Official Google blog was a newspaper, its subscriber numbers would put it in the top 10 for daily circulation right between the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. That’s Google’s tribe, it’s massive, and it’s special.

Digg could be considered mass media if we’re just talking distribution numbers (check out the social media stats from early 09, and consider that Digg as just one example attracted 236,000,000 visitors in 2008).  Sounds like mass numbers to me.

I’m also slightly confused with what we’re talking about in terms of “mass” media.  All media is potentially mass media if it gets shared and we’re merely talking numbers.  Is mass media defined as the media brands pushed onto the masses?  Is it defined as the medium in which a majority of people consume content?  Is there some number media must break to be considered mass?  Is it national, international, local?  It’s a term with no real meaning.  Even the wiki entry is pretty useless.

Also, why is it that people perceive media entities as permanent fixtures?  They are not, as the very nature of a changing society dictates change in media.

We no longer have scribes.

We no longer distribute paper on papyrus.

We no longer have town criers.

During all of those times civilization felt them as permanent.  Newspapers and print today are no different.  Look at the bigger picture of how technology is advancing our civilization, not at what the world you grew up in was like.  Tomorrow’s society is never the same as today’s.  Paper isn’t that special and is a living artifact in a society governed by technology.

Mitch goes on to bring us a hypothetical situation:

Now, imagine that U2 is coming town, but the band does not take out any kind of traditional Mass Media advertising. In fact, push it further, there is no more Mass Media – as these “Social Media Gurus” are saying – (no mentions on radio, TV, in the newspapers, on billboards, etc…). Layer that on to your busy work schedule – you’ve been running from the house, to the gym  and to the office with only some minor interactions with daylight when you grab a coffee and a sandwich to eat at your desk. The band comes to town… the band leaves town… you didn’t even know that they were planning a tour date in your city.

For big name artists, perhaps Mitch has a point.  But flip this for a second and consider the small name artist.  As an artist myself, when I was frequently playing gigs from 2001 – 2004ish, they were never in mass media, not a single one.  They were only announced and promoted on message boards, on web sites, through fliers, text messaging, and word of mouth.

When I was playing frequently, our shows always did well and the audience was genuinely interested in being there and was passionate about the music.  What did this lead to?  A thriving music and culture scene where participation, creativity and contribution was the norm.  After our shows we would work with other artists personally to teach them our craft and encourage more people to be involved.  That’s exactly how I initially became involved in creating art.

Those types of experiences don’t happen at big name concerts like the hypothetical example Mitch says, so to me it wouldn’t matter if their “push” mediums went away and all music culture was forced to go niche and underground (FYI, that’s where real music culture lives, not in any form of mass media).  That would make just make art better as smaller shows encourage participation and create real passion amongst fans.  Intimate events are a ridiculously better experience than massives and are where real art is born.

That’s an opinion so take it as such, but as an independent artist I never saw the value of mass media to help music.  If anything mass media as a rule plays/shares what is “safe” and doesn’t push the creative envelope.  They want what the masses enjoy.  It’s boring.  Music fans will echo that statement.

This may be a personal example, but that’s the point.  I’m interested in engaging with a culture that forms and organizes based on the opinions of individuals without agendas (AKA my peers) not because some editors have decided this is “good” or “bad”.  That is the inherent flaw of “mass” media for people who can’t be grouped into masses. And those are the people you want to engage with as marketers. They are the “sneezers” Seth Godin talks about, the trendsetters Malcolm Gladwell likes to reference.  They are what matter in a fragmented media society.

They will remix your brand/ads/marketing ideas.

They will share your messages if your messages are worth sharing.

They have tribes, and will authentically spread what you’re interested in to the rest of their tribe.

That’s not mass media.  That’s what makes activating a connected society special.  It’s not push messaging, it’s pull.

You might say, “well, if U2 were playing my city, then people in my Twitter feed or via Facebook would let me know because I follow people who are like me!” Fair enough, but remember, there is no Mass Media… so, how would they have heard about it? The point is, it’s easy to say, “Mass Media is dead” when something new and shiny comes along, but we all tend to forget that Social Media is not going to replace traditional media. In fact, it is much more likely that Social Media will simply compliment Mass Media or become a subset of it.

I don’t own a TV.  I don’t get the daily newspaper.  I find both of those mediums tedious and boring.  Many of my peers feel similarly.

Why be spoon fed content by editors when I can create a personalized experience with what I’m interested in receiving?  I say, bring on the death of mass media entities – they serve to bland our culture and normalize us.  Perhaps the world would be more interesting and diverse without them?

There’s something Mitch doesn’t say, and it’s this: information that is actually vital to your world now finds you.  Good ideas permeate the niche and permeate networks.  Push ideas will live on through whatever “mass” media evolves into, but they are ideas that need to be pushed for a reason.

We need Mass Media.

We may not like to admit it. We may think that all advertising is the same (it isn’t), but we need to be informed of things – from products and services to events and opportunities. They may not all be relevant to us today, but who knows if something you read in a newspaper or saw on a billboard might not become something you need/want in a couple of weeks? It’s important to remember that Mass Media and Social Media do not fulfill the same needs. They are dramatically different.

I highly doubt there is anything you’ve read in a newspaper or on a billboard is something any of us need.  If you can prove me wrong, coffee is on me.

The masses need mass media.  You’re probably okay without it.