David Mathison on ‘the emerging media model of abundance’
Since last spring, David Mathison has been barnstorming the country, bringing the message of grassroots, accessible, citizen-based media to would-be journalists, filmmakers, musicians, podcasters, independent business people — anyone with an interest in creating media.
David’s book Be the Media: How to Create and Accelerate Your Message … Your Way is the most authoritative guide to the personal media revolution, which was just taking off in a big way when my book Darknet came out in 2005. Here, David offers a detailed guide for those with something to share and a look at the burgeoning community media landscape, from local online publications and social networks to personal broadcasting networks. Download sample chapters from the Be the Media website, then go out and buy the soft-cover edition.
I met David Mathison last summer at the Open Video conference in New York and followed up by attending a webinar he gave on effective use of citizen media. He took time out from his travels for this Q&A:
1 Tell us in general about Be the Media. Why did you write the book and what kind of reception are you getting?
Be The Media taps into people’s desires to communicate, connect, and collaborate. The book has been successful because it shows how anyone can create a global product launch that can potentially change the world. The book teaches people how to build a global or local base and widely spread their messages. It can also be seen as a detailed business plan for creating one’s own diversified media company. The book has been adopted at some of the country’s most respected schools, such as the University of Missouri School of Journalism, which is using it for a course called “Economics and Finance of the Media.”
2 Your book smartly takes a broad view of what it means to “be the media.” Tell us how regular people are now creating and distributing their own music, radio shows, digital films or periodicals. Which of these is resonating with people?
Context is key. When we exhibit at a book conference, writers are initially attracted to the chapters on
— David Mathison
Self-publishing and Blogging. At a music conference, musicians like the chapters on Radio, Podcasting, and Music. But they all quickly see the benefits of the other chapters — everyone needs to know about leveraging web sites, social media, licensing, syndication, print, audio, and video, and so on. Artists need to match their fans’ media consumption habits and pocketbooks. This means getting the message out via print, audio, video, interactive, and experiential events.
Inclusiveness was one of the main goals of the book — our audience includes not only writers, musicians, filmmakers, and journalists, but also entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, and the general public. After all, democracy depends on engaged, active, and knowledgeable citizens, and media literacy is an important component of that.
3What do you see as the most effective revenue drivers for citizen media sites? Is online advertising getting there? Ecommerce? Affiliate programs?
The most important lesson in the Intro to Be The Media [free download here] is that sites and individuals need to diversify their revenue streams and provide increasingly higher-value products and services. This would include revenues from a combination of direct product sales (books, CDs, articles), advertising, affiliate programs (within the new FTC regs, of course), transactions, events, subscriptions, memberships, donations, licensing, and syndication.
There are a few citizen media sites leveraging the spectrum of revenue opportunities, but not many — yet. Amy Goodman’s non-profit Democracy Now! does a good job of putting all the pieces together, and I’m keeping a hopeful eye on David Cohn’s Spot.us, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, Pro Publica, Politico, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Power Line, among others.
4You labeled the second part of your book “the Community Media Renaissance.” Do you see public access TV or community radio as viable and relevant in the Internet age? Why haven’t community media groups used the Internet more effectively to put more public access TV footage online?
This community media renaissance I describe is exemplified by people working together — not necessarily for financial reward but in common purpose to build critical, open source infrastructure that helps us all become successful. Examples include the Linux operating system, the Firefox browser, Wikipedia and Creative Commons. Or engaged communities of fans helping an artist go viral by sharing and linking to the artist’s work.
With regard to public access, sure, it is easier than ever to create a video from one’s own bedroom, or start a radio station using Pandora or Blog Talk Radio. But it requires a team of dedicated people to cover important community events, town hall meetings, corrupt politicians and businesses, or even local high school sports and cultural activities. Public access TV and community radio stations provide the facilities, resources, quality equipment, continuing education, dedicated staff, and committed volunteers necessary for higher-value productions (skilled camera people, directors, editors, character generators, etc).
Some public access facilities are effectively leveraging the Internet, such as Manhattan Neighborhood Network, the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, and Denver Open Media, among others. I think the board members of the Alliance for Community Media understand the shift taking place and are encouraging their member stations to make appropriate adjustments to maintain relevance in the future.
5What’s your take on how the digital age is disrupting the business models of traditional media? How will the media landscape look differently a few years from now?
We’re moving from a model of scarcity to one of abundance. Media creation and distribution has increasingly been concentrated in the hands of a few mega-corporations that encourage scarcity as a way of controlling the number of acts and messages that are promoted and keeping the majority of the revenues that are extracted. In this trickle-down, captive-economics model, most of the money that should go to deserving artists and communities goes instead to middlemen — distributors, resellers, retailers, publishers, labels, accountants, lawyers, etc. — who add marginal value, yet earn unequal rewards.
The emerging media model is one of abundance, driven by a fourishing of creativity unheard of in any other time in human history. I believe this new model is not only more democratic and egalitarian, but fundamentally more sustainable economically, with many media consumers/creators buying, selling, and trading with each other. The main benefactors in this new era are the creators and their fans.
For example, since I self-published Be The Media and keep a majority of the revenues, I can afford to give back to causes whose values are in line with my own, such as Creative Commons (more than half of the chapters in the book use CC licenses). We currently have a promotion with Common Cause: for every purchase from their site at http://www.CommonCause.org/bethemedia, I give 20 percent of the proceeds to Common Cause. Everyone wins. It’s a nice model.
6What’s next for Be The Media?
We just launched our radio show on Blog Talk Radio (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/be-the-media). This is a great way for us to explore the strategies and tactics in the book more fully and allow for audience participation. All for free. As an example, our premier episode features Alan Levy, CEO of Blog Talk Radio, to discuss the revolutionary impact of his new platform on freedom of speech and expression. Upcoming guests include author Seth Godin, singer-songwriters Michelle Shocked, Jill Sobule, Tegan and Sara, Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, iLike, and Garageband, and Terry McBride, the CEO of the Nettwerk Music Group and co-founder of the Lilith Fair.
We want to get our message out in every way possible to match our fans’ media consumption habits. Free radio is another one of those ways.
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