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Media Interviews
In their own words


Chris Anderson: 'Peer Production Complements Traditional Media'
The editor in chief of Wired and author of "The Long Tail" calls the shift from "lectures to conversations" a healthy evolution for the media. He admits: "Exactly how best to do it is still something we're all trying to figure out."


I Want Media, 06/26/06


Chris Anderson is the editor in chief of Wired magazine, the Conde Nast monthly covering technology, innovation and culture. He is also the author of "The Long Tail," which first appeared as an article in Wired in October 2004 and is being expanded into a book to be published by Hyperion in July.



I Want Media: Briefly, what is The Long Tail?

Chris Anderson: It's a measure of how our economy and culture is shifting from mass markets to millions of niches. The rise of distribution methods with unlimited capacity or "infinite shelf space," of which the Internet is the foremost (but not only) example, have made it finally possible to offer consumers an incredible variety of products and other goods that were previously suppressed by the economic and physical limits of traditional retail and broadcast.

The Long Tail refers specifically to the "long tail" of the familiar fast-falling demand curve in economics -- we've usually looked just at the high part of the curve on the left, where the hits are. But the tail of smaller-sellers is incredibly long, and when you can offer everything all those niche product can add up to a market that rivals the "head."

IWM: Hollywood studio heads are talking about The Long Tail. Google CEO Eric Schmidt referenced it during his recent interview for Conde Nast's new Portfolio magazine. It even has its own Wikipedia entry. Are you surprised at how widely the concept has been embraced?

Anderson: I'm of course delighted that the term I coined and the method of quantifying it that I've used has resonated so broadly. But the concept of building businesses that can "scale down" far beyond the hits dates back, at least online, to the early '90s when Jeff Bezos made it part of the Amazon.com strategy. I think the reason the phrase has become so widely used is that it gives a name to something that so many people had intuitively been acting on for years.

IWM: You're writing a blog for "The Long Tail" book. What has it taught you?

Anderson: I think it's a fantastic aid, especially under circumstances like mine. It had three advantages for me, as I was writing a non-fiction, research-heavy book that was based on an article already published.

By feeding the conversation, it allowed me to keep the momentum of the article going during the 22-month dead time between the publication of the article and the book. I gave away some of my research results and ideas, but got back many times that in comments, other people's blog posts and emails.

Hundreds of people applied The Long Tail to their own industries and experience and revealed resonances I never would have thought of, from The Long Tail of beer to travel to warfare. I tossed out half-baked ideas and phrasing, and my smart readers helped me bake them. Those thousands of readers have great word-of-mouth influence, which I imagine will help market the book when it comes out.

IWM: The July issue of Wired includes an adaptation from "The Long Tail," in which you write: "The Internet favors infinite niches. But the entertainment industry won't be able to internalize the lessons of this shift for decades." What will happen to the industry in the meantime?

Anderson: The main barrier for the entertainment industry, especially TV, is rights. It's expensive and complicated to clear the rights of archives for digital distribution. Naturally, companies are starting with the most popular stuff. The companies that find the most efficient ways to "scale down" to less mainstream fare will have an advantage, since audiences are already primed for that.

IWM: In another article in Wired's July issue, you write that we're now in the Age of Peer Production, citing the success of the user-generated content phenoms MySpace, Amazon.com and Craigslist. How will traditional media thrive and prosper in the peer production era?

Anderson: I think peer production can complement traditional media, just as comments and trackbacks complement blog posts. Shifting from lectures to conversations strikes me as a healthy evolution, But exactly how best to do it is still something we're all trying to figure out.

IWM: When will the articles in Wired's July issue become available online? Does the delay in posting the content help with the magazine's newsstand sales?

Anderson: We post all our features for free on the Web site on a rolling schedule. The cover story goes live on the on-sale date, and the last one is usually up 10 days later. We do this to balance our desire to privilege subscribers with our belief that content should be freely available on the Web.

IWM: Conde Nast owns Wired magazine, but not the Wired News site. Is that confusing to your audience?

Anderson: I imagine that many people don't know that we're different companies, in part because the synergies are so tight. We share a DNA and a sensibility -- and they're right across the hall from us in San Francisco.

Wired News works on an hourly and daily basis, and the magazine works on a monthly basis. But our content is interwoven on the site in a sensible way that attempts to avoid unnecessary division while still making clear what's from the magazine and what's from the Web site.

IWM: Given the subject matter of Wired -- does a print magazine format make sense anymore?

Anderson: A monthly magazine like ours -- which combines long-form journalism, lavish design and high-end photography -- really shows paper at its finest. Online, the design is lost, the photos become thumbnails, and you have to click through as many as 16 screens [to read the longer articles].

I think of a great monthly magazine as occupying the sweet spot between the Web and books. It can have much of the timely relevance of the Web combined with the much of the depth of a book. Obviously, it has to live online, too. If you're not in Google, you don't exist for many people. But I think the immersive experience of the print version remains compelling.

IWM: Is print media on its way out?

Anderson: Broadly, if a print product adds value to the Web, as in the case I've described, it will remain attractive. If it doesn't (for instance, with short, low-design stories that are as easy to read online as they are in print), it will probably struggle.

I love newspapers but, with the exception of the Sunday New York Times, don't read them in print anymore, since by the time the paper gets to me I've already read what I need online.

IWM: I presume you're a very "wired" person. What gadgets or devices to you simply have to use every day?

Anderson: I've listed that all on my blog.

IWM: What are your daily must-read news sources?

Anderson: I have more than 180 RSS feeds in my feed reader, and that's pretty much all I read online. Most are blogs, ranging from economics and science to various arcane tech subjects I'm interested in. There are a few cultural ones, too. My feeds are public, so anyone can see them if they want.

IWM: Do you ever read print newspapers or magazines?

Anderson: As I mentioned, the only newspaper I read in print is the Sunday New York Times. I love magazines, and read as many of them as ever -- mostly science, business and videogame, along with more mainstream staples as The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Week.

IWM: Do you ever unplug? Are you ever "not connected"?

Anderson: Never. Just ask my wife.



PREVIOUS MEDIA INTERVIEWS





Murdoch on Google's Arrogance, Future of Mass Media

Rupert Murdoch is the cover boy of the July issue of Wired, as the face of the magazine's annual "Wired 100" list honoring leaders in technology and innovation.

As of June 26, articles from the July issue are not yet posted on Wired magazine's Web site. Updated: The cover story is now online.

Wired's 2006 "Wired 100" list ranks Internet search giant Google at No. 1, while Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp. comes in at No. 9. Wired commends News Corp. for its aggressive Internet strategy, including the $580 million purchase of MySpace, the hit social networking site that the company plans to transform into "a colossal marketing machine," says the Wired article by Spencer Reiss.

In a Q&A interview in the magazine, Murdoch says of Google: "I like those guys, but there's a bit of arrogance. They could have bought MySpace three months before we did for half the price. They thought, 'It's nothing special. We can do that.'"

Despite the revolutionary changes brought by the Internet and new technologies, "mass media will go on," he says. In the future, most television viewing will continue to be in a living room on a TV screen, Murdoch predicts. "Sure, everyone's going to have a small screen, too. It's a convenience. But I don't see people sitting on the beach and watching a movie on their telephone."

Newspapers can make money online, he adds. But, "can they make enough to replace what's going out? At the moment, with the Internet so competitive, so new, and so cheap, the answer is no. But don't look at it as a newspaper -- look at it as a journalistic enterprise. If you've got authority and trust, if you can make the news interesting, you'll survive."

In a survey of Wired magazine readers, most respondents cited the launch of Fox TV and Fox News over the acquisition of MySpace as Murdoch's "greatest triumph." Still, News Corp. is just now discovering what MySpace is capable of doing, says Murdoch.

"God knows what we're going to do with MySpace. Can you democratize newspapers, for instance? What does it mean for how we do sports or politics? I don't know -- no one does. I just know we'll figure it out."





 

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