December 21, 2007

"Attention Share"

In the days when three national TV networks presided over the nation's attention with their broadcasts, audiences were huge. Mass Market. Multiple millions. Now, of course, cable and satellite services have captured the attention of enough people to be profitable, at least in the aggregate.

The same mass market business model controlled the distribution of music: artists were at the mercy of record labels and radio stations.

Content providers on the internet have gained -- and are gaining -- significant "attention share," and this emergence is analogous to the emergence of cable services.

At first, Web 1.0 adopted the old mass market paradigm. Survivors of that era are Amazon, Yahoo!, Google, eBay, and other web sites that measure their "attention share" in the multiple millions.

And in web 2.0, Myspace, Facebook and YouTube can claim attention share in the millions.

The egalitarianism of the internet has diminished the need of a mass market.

A pre-internet example of operating nationally but well under mass market scale, are industry-specific magazines and trade journals. Publishers can have circulation of 20,000 to 40,000 and be profitable from advertising revenue and subscription fees.

In the world of blogs and retail web sites, mass market "attention share," Amazon-level flows and eBay-esque reach are not needed. A subscriber base of 40,000 and traffic measured in the hundreds of thousands are sufficient.

That's part of the good Web 2.0 has wrought. Yes, yes. Large scale has flourished under the Web 2.0 social network revolution -- or fad. After all, some social networks are becoming spam havens.

The great discovery for me is that a blog or a web site does not need huge numbers compared to the giants; and yet, compared to BW2 (Before Web 2.0), enjoys the reality and further possibility of broader reach than could ever be imagined.

Example: I read that Ze Frank had some 47,000 subscribers to his daily "blog-cast" The Show. Ze Frank controls his world, his content, his art. He's beholden to no one. I consider his attention share of 47,000 to be awesome.

Another example: BW2, a university literary journal would print, say, two editions a year and circulate 1,000 copies and feel self-satisfied. This year, a university student wrote a piece of short fiction, recorded a podcast of it, and in a couple of days, her reading had over 20,000 downloads. Wow! Which is better, having her piece published in a printed literary journal with an attention share of 1,000, or reaching an attention share of 20,000?

Just asking.

There is merit in editorial discretion, sifting through submissions, publishing works of fiction under a banner of well-deserved and broadly recognized good reputation.

Then again, their is merit in an artist creating art and getting it in front of many people.

I'm in awe of the sheer abundance of "stuff" and the Grecian democratic forces (not market forces, but the forces of the polity) that push and pull art and artifact. The attention of 10,000 people on my work? I'd take that.

How about 1,200? Or 57,000? It could swell to 1MM or more in an internet flash. But who needs an attention share of 1MM, when I can have an attention share of 5,000, which is 100 fold greater than I could have hoped BW2?

Over the course of the long tail, their can be an accumulation of large numbers of "attention units" and "moments of interest" and "ergs of momentum."

At the end of the day, "Hey, listen to this!" "You got to read this?" "I want you to see this!" are the shout outs an artists or a marketer wants to hear. In the era of Web 2.0, I believe attention share is easier to gain than ever before.

(cf. "Reaching an Audience."