Panel: Community is Content

Venture capitalist Esther Dyson

MediaPost assembles a panel of a dozen experts to discuss the future of media. They include top editors, marketers, regulators and technologists. While there’s no single conclusion to this long and varied discussion, the group agrees that marketers’ focus is shifting away from content and toward audience. Publishers who attract the right audience – in whatever medium – will win.

Technology enables those audiences to be smaller and more focused than in the past. There is nearly unlimited opportunity to define and attract these new groups online. As a result, the group agrees that it’s a great time to be a publishing entrepremeur. They point to sites like Dopplr and yappr as examples of new Web 2.0 ventures that creatively combine member contributions in ways that amplify the value of the group. This community publishing model has explosive potential, they believe.

An example of this is Mint , a site that tracks personal spending and compares it to that of other members. A couple of the panelists think this is a great example of a new form of publishing in which the value is derived from the collective. “I now have the tools to figure out whether you really are giving me a better deal, because if you try to give me a worse deal, the Mint analysis tools are going to show I’m actually paying a higher percentage rate,” says Esther Dyson. “So it’s going to force vendors to offer better deals.”This kind of innovation almost necessarily comes from entrepreneurs and small businesses, not from large companies, panelists agree. “It is almost impossible to change human behavior. And when someone drives to the top of the big company…it’s very hard for them to incorporate new ideas,” says Brian Napack, president of Macmillan.

Much of the discussion centers on the future of newspapers. While there’s no consensus on where the business is going. everyone agrees that the economics of mass distribution are becoming irrelevant. “A newspaper is going to kind of bifurcate into, on the one hand, a magazine with pictures, perhaps, and then something online where the news is actually up to date, and where you get news that’s tailored for you,” Dyson says. “I want to know what’s happening in my own neighborhood. I want to know which of my friends broke up and that belongs online, because the economics of mass distribution doesn’t make sense.”

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