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RIP The Industry Standard

Content is dead, long live the King. 01/08/20 ReleVents hed: RIP The Industry Standard dek: Content is dead, long live the King. By James Mathewson

Over the last year, one by one, New Economy axioms have degraded from truisms into flat-out lies. The Internet is not a bubble. First to market, first to profit. Stock valuations trump profit margins. Content is king. Blah, blah, blah. So much drivel added to the drool reservoirs of New Economy champions and their publishing minions: Business 2.0, Red Herring, Upside, and The Industry Standard.

At the height of the hype, these publications were phone books filled with ads for dot-coms and, especially, their outsourcing partners. Now as the hype reservoirs dry up, so do the dot-coms, their outsourcing partners, and, especially, the publishing minions. Today, The Industry Standard is bankrupt, tomorrow Red Herring faces the same fate. Business 2.0 was sold to AOL Time Warner and restructured. Upside has tremendous downside.

I’m not going to stand on my soapbox and say, “I told you so.” In sooth, I was one of the droolers, particularly in love with the concept that content is king. I had my doubts about all the economic salivating. I was especially suspicious of the stock-valuation house of cards. But I did think this new medium would change the way information is exchanged and forever change the collaborative process. Above all, I thought it would put a premium on the information itself and lay waste to all the societal influences that infect information with harmful spin. Information wants to be free, and the Web would put this freedom in everyone’s hands to make the information we share more pure and absent of harmful commercial spin. Contrary to Marshall McLuhan’s seminal thesis, the message would be the medium, content would be king.

I don’t have space to demonstrate how or where I went wrong. Suffice to say that absent of commercial support, information alone is practically worthless. I have labored for more than four years to create the content I feel our readers need in order to cope with the onslaught of technology in their lives. But without support from advertising, subscriptions, micropayments, or some other revenue model, the information I have created is destined for the scrap heap of shut-down servers and idle printing presses.

Fortunately, we did not invest all our efforts in the New Economy, or we would be destined for the same fate as The Industry Standard. In a way, publishing companies are like frogs gathering around the hype reservoirs of commercial enterprises. We are indicator species of the economic health of the industries we cover. Those that survive must adapt to the changing water table of the ponds that they live in. In our case, as business-to-business (B2B) technology is in a drought, we must move over to the consumer pool, which has remained high amid strong wages for info tech workers. And we must keep an eye on B2B’s recovery, ready to jump when that market comes back. In short, the information we provide is contingent on commercial influences, which spin our content this way and that. Content is not king, commerce is. Long live the king.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com.

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