The Internet Changes the Rules

Late Friday afternoon a rumor surfaced in the music magazine community that Remix is shutting its doors. Whether or not this particular factoid turns out to be true, it’s been pretty obvious all year that the music magazines are not doing well. The issues are getting skinny.

This happens primarily because advertising dollars are drying up. But another factor is at work too.

The whole basis of nonfiction publishing, be it books or magazines, is that information is a scarce and valuable commodity. Money is to be made by gathering information, packaging it up nicely, and selling it to people.

The Internet changes that picture rather drastically. All of a sudden, information is cheap and plentiful. Okay, a lot of it is of marginal quality. It’s crap, in other words. But a lot of the stuff that has been published in magazines and books over the years was sort of crap-flavored too. Editors (people like me) are in the business of vetting the quality of the information. But one has, inevitably, an uncomfortable awareness that a lot of readers wouldn’t know the difference. Depending on how seriously overworked the editors are (and these days, trust me, overwork is the rule, not the exception), a little crap may be allowed to slide down the chute onto the printed page.

So now, on the Internet, the crap is out in the open, unfiltered. But there’s a lot of high-quality information floating around too. And for $30 a month for high-speed Internet access, you get ALL of it. You get the equivalent of a thousand magazine subscriptions for the cost of about ten — plus, you get email and all that other good stuff too.

It’s highly questionable the extent to which, or the areas in which, the business of gathering, packaging, and distributing information still represents a viable economic opportunity.

On the other side of the ledger, advertisers have new ways to reach their customers. Namely, their own websites. Magazines no longer have a monopoly on customer eyeballs.

If you want to know what careers are going to be hot in the 21st century, I can tell you. Number two or three on the Big List is the service sector. I teach private music lessons, so maybe I’m prejudiced. Maybe that work will dry up too. But the thing is, there’s no substitute for one-on-one instruction from an expert. You can buy the DVD-ROM if you want to, but no instructional DVD can watch your bow arm and tell you what you’re doing wrong. I expect psychologists to continue to have work too. And appliance repair people. Huge opportunities there, because the cost of new gear will continue to rise. Keeping the old stuff running will morph into a valuable skill.

The biggest factor affecting career opportunities is scarcity. If it’s scarce, people will pay to get their hands on it. So if you’re 20 years old today and want to be rich by the time you’re 40, go into water. Water is going to be scarce.

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