I got a little heated on my walk to work this morning. I was thinking about an essay I read before leaving on publishing (as you do): Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved, via Elissa Shevinsky.
It did not, shall we say, do it for me. The author, Joshua Topolsky, is Co-founder of The Verge / Vox Media. I assume he knows what he’s talking about. And when it comes to the problems facing publishing, he’s not wrong.
Will video save publishing? Of course not.
The Problem is that we used to have a really neat and tidy version of a media business where very large interests controlled vast swaths of the things we read, watched, and listened to. Because that system was built on the concept of scarcity and locality?—?the limits of what was physically possible?—?it was very easy to keep the gates and fill the coffers. Put simply, there were far fewer players in the game with far fewer outlets for their content, so audiences were easy to sell to and easy to come by.
Correct! The ads-for-content model worked when publishing and distributing content was expensive.
So what’s going to save publishing?
Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media. Thinking of your platform as an actual platform, not a delivery method. Knowing you’re more than just your words. Thinking of your business as a product and storytelling business, not a headline and body-copy business. Thinking of your audience as finite and building a sustainable business model around that audience?—?that’s going to matter. Thinking about your 10 year plan and not a billion dollar valuation?—?that’s going to matter.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Has Joshua Topolsky seen Lemonade?
It is, literally, a work of art. It incorporates the work of Somali British poet Warsan Shire and Yoruba-inspired Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo. It has “provoked an intense worldwide discussion about race, feminism, social media and the music industry” (Guardian)
It’s a celebrity gossip story; it’s a music business story; it’s a story about the ascendency of African American women in the American psyche; it’s a story about artists of African origin; it’s a story about southern black women; it’s a story about feminism and womanism and – inevitably, annoyingly – who gets to call themselves a feminist; it’s another story about the power of social media to connect us and create cultural moments.
Today, now, a black woman can make a feature-length music video album about and for black women.
“What would happen if we took the hopes, dreams, pain, joy, loss, bodies, voices, stories, expressions, styles, families, histories, futures of black girls and women and put them in the center and started from there?” Harris Perry asked. Then answered: “Lemonade is one outcome. Surely there are other possibilities that are utterly obscured because we rarely even try to place the black woman at the center of the puzzle.”
“White men have erased us from their history books, from the families we were forcibly made a part of, from their riches,” Fusion reporter Collier Meyerson said.
When Beyonce came out as a feminist white women tried to eject her from a movement we still thought was ours. She is remaking it in her image. She’s making movies about “black women’s relationship with a patriarchal society.”
“In mainstream media, I have rarely seen the cataloging of black women’s pain,” writes Clay Cane. “The process of pain is not afforded to black and brown women. Your child is shot and killed with no justice, but you are immediately expected to heal and forgive.”
There was a time, not long ago, when this would not have been possible. “Maybe one day I will speak of my political beliefs,” Beyonce once said. “But only when I know what I’m talking about.”
Today, now, a black woman can stand atop a sinking cop car and proclaim that the lives of her people matter.
And Joshua Topolsky wants to see “Compelling voices and stories.” Fuck you and the horse your white, male ass rode in on!
Of course I haven’t seen Lemonade.
“With every new set of eyeballs (or clicks, or views) we added, we diminished the merit of what we made.”
No, Joshua. You diminish the merit of what we made. If you think cat gifs could possibly have any impact on the value of what Beyonce accomplished, that’s your own blindness speaking, bud.
Saying “Make better content” is the way to save publishing is of course insulting. It’s insulting to the artists whose art isn’t just amazing in its own right, but amazing in that it’s being created at all. Lowering the costs of publishing and distributing content didn’t just kill publishing. It also gave life to art that would have never seen the light of day under that model. To look at the entire art/news/writing landscape and whine about cat gifs is the most myopic, sheltered, whiny-little-bitch response I could possibly imagine.
Because the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough good content. The problem is paying for it.
I haven’t seen Lemonade because I already pay for Spotify and don’t want to pay for Tidal too. And I don’t want to break the law (mostly because it’s too much hassle).
Art hasn’t been broken by cat gifs. Art could never be broken by cat gifs. Publishing is dead, yes. And videos won’t save it. And as it rots it feeds the voices that it had been suffocating because it was run by myopic, sheltered, whiny-little-bitches. Publishing is getting what it deserves.
What will replace publishing? How do I get my Lemonade without getting hassled or paying for redundant services? Had Joshua Topolsky suggested content marketing and/or subscription models as a solution to how to pay for art I could get behind it. But who seriously thinks people aren’t, right now, producing amazing stuff on the web? Ads are the problem, because they don’t work on the web like they did on print, as he pointed out. So pose a fucking solution to that.