There’s a debate raging about the value — or criminality — of what could be called the ‘aggregation economy’.
Mark Cuban, whose media and sports interests all revolve around content creation, has come out swinging, calling all the emerging institutions that gather and curate content ‘vampires’.
“Don’t let them suck your blood”, says Cuban of the Googles and Huffington Posts of the world. “Vampires take, but don’t give anything back.”
But the debate is just heating up. In a wide ranging interview with Godin on the subject, his passion and enthusiastic support for the shift from single point of distribution publishing to web-wide curation took on the zeal of a manifesto.
“We don’t have an information shortage, we have an attention shortage” says Godin. “There’s always someone who’s going to supply you with information that you’re going to curate. The Guggenheim doesn’t have a shortage of art. They don’t pay you to hang painting for a show, in fact you have to pay for the insurance. Why? Because the Guggenheim is doing a service to the person who’s in the museum and the artist who’s being displayed.”
As Godin sees the world, power is shifting from content makers to content curators — and that’s leaving folks like Cuban with less power to dictate terms.
Godin explains: “if we live in a world where information drives what we do, the information we get becomes the most important thing. The person who chooses that information has power.”
So, what about the vampire analogy? It’s all wrong, Godin says: “When a vampire sucks your blood, you make new blood. That’s different than when a human being eats bacon. The pig’s over, it’s done. The thing about information is that information is more valuable when people know it. There’s an exception for business information and super timely information, but in all other cases, ideas that spread win. I’m not talking about plagiarism, I’m talking about the difference between obscurity and piracy. If the taking is so whole that the original is worth nothing — like eating bacon — that’s a problem.”
“If Oprah calls you on the phone and says come be on my TV show and tell everyone what’s in your book, do you then say: ‘How much are you going to pay me?’ Of course not, Oprah doesn’t pay people to be on her show. The chance to tell your story to Oprah’s viewership is priceless. In fact, you’d pay her.”
“Is Oprah a Vampire? I don’t think so.”
In the world we’re arriving in, Godin preaches the value of being extraordinary — and of being flexible about how you price and value your service. Pricing is no longer ‘one-size-fits-all’.
“In my latest book, Linchpin, I’m saying the industrial revolution is over. This model that says you should do what your told in a factory setting is over. Karl Marx and Adam Smith said there are two teams, owners and workers. I’m saying there’s a third team now, people who own their own means of production. They own the factory and they’re a worker. That could be a blogger, or a designer. The argument of the book is that the linchpin is the one part that you can’t live without. It’s good news because now you can be somebody who’s going to step up and people are going to notice.”
So, what does that mean for mainstream publishers today? Folks who have made their income and built their business in the ‘pre-aggregation’ economy? Is it possible to survive in media without participating in the aggregation and curation economy?
“First, you have to cut your overhead to the bone. You can’t have a staff of people dedicated to selling stuff on the corner, and then have the sales part go away, but keep the overhead part.”
But are cost cuts enough? No, Godin says: “You’d have to be amazing.”
Cuban’s advice to content creators: cut off the aggregators at the knees. Throw the switch. Don’t let your content be crawled or curated.
Godin’s response: “The default should be you opt in to sharing. If you need to keep your book out of the library. If you want to opt out of Google it’s easy, it’s a button. But even Rupert Murdoch doesn’t have the guts to do that because it would mean ruin.”
“The economics of the structure is curators, not curators with buildings or newspapers but individuals are going to become ever more important. We’re not going to outgrow our need for information.”
From Godin’s point of view, we need a middleman, a curator, to help us find what’s important. That’s where the value lies. And he says that person is a linchpin.
Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of Magnify.net, a NYC-based Web video startup. He has been building and growing consumer-content businesses since 1992. He was the creator and Executive Producer of MTV UNfiltered, a series that was the first commercial application of user-generated video in commercial TV.
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