Stephen Poole at the New Statesman rips into the rising trend in ‘cybertheorists’ – academic thinkers who have made a career slamming traditional media institutions and offering vague visions of a ‘open source’ future online:
Cybertheorists in general could perhaps be tolerated as harmlessly colourful futurists, were it not that so many of them, through the influence of their consulting work and virtual bully pulpits, are right now engaged in promoting widespread cultural vandalism. Whatever smells mustily of the pre-digital age must be torn down, “disrupted” and made anew in the sacred image of Google and Apple, except more open to the digital probings of the internet- company oligopoly. Long live sharing, social reading, volunteering free labour as a peer student or member of a company’s online “community”, and entrusting your documents to the data-mining mega-corporations that control the “cloud”.
Cybertheorists love to apply the adjective “smart” to one another but, as a group, they are the most prominent anti-intellectual cadre of our day – little Pol Pots of the touchscreen and Twitter.
Poole’s assessment is harsh, but there’s a great deal of truth in his piece. I struggle with the business of publishing on a day to day basis – it is extremely challenging and requires a lot of effort and strategic thinking. I’ve read nothing from heralded ‘cybertheorist’ gurus that float around New York that was of any tangible use when it comes to building an actual business around publishing. As far as I can discern (and I’m speaking from a good deal of experience now) the key to quality content surviving online is as follows: Make sure you have great quality content in a particular niche, a well designed and structured publishing system, people who know how to sell ads, and a flexible model to create other sources of revenue (paywalls, donations, partnering with non profits etc). If you can cobble together all of the above and do it at a bare bones cost, you have a shot at surviving in a time when online ad rates are in a transitory phase and cannot match traditional print. Anyone who says otherwise most likely hasn’t built a business. If they had, they’d realize there’s no future whatsoever in an ‘open source’, ‘smart’, ‘disruptive’ model, whatever that might be. Because at the end of the day, people want to read great content, and at some point, they’ll have to pay for it in one way or another. Ripping down traditional publishing might help sell books for the cybertheorists, but it doesn’t help create great content that people want to read. While platforms like facebook and twitter help share content, someone still has to create it, and the publishing industry has to get better at finding ways to pay those creators rather than build fancy sharing platforms and inviting ‘user created content’ that has very little value in the business world.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.