Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Fourth Screen, The Seventh Mass Media: the Newest Wonder of the World
No it is not a photograph or directly related to photography, but this phenomenon and the thinking behind it are clearly going to have tremendous consequences for the future of mass communication and the distribution of photography and photojournalistic stories. The appearance of Apple's iPhone, the device that handily combines a phone, computer, and ipod, and whose salient virtue is its mobility, has already created a buzz on Lightstalkers, which you can check here and here. That last link leads to a thread that deals with this blog, but it ends up, in typical LS fashion, dealing with an entirely different theme. As it bears some important comments by Sion Touhig, it is worth consulting, as are his recent comments on his blog.
As we all know, we are witnessing the beginning of a seismic shift in the alignment of the mass media plates that make up our informational globe. I think it is safe enough to predict that, while print journalism isnt going to disappear any time soon, it will certainly morph into something that is far more focused on communication via the web. I dont know about you, and it may be because I live in a country where the selection is somewhat limited, but I rarely look at and never buy magazines anymore. I can get most of the content via their web pages, and while my internet connection is rather expensive, it is the only reliable means I have of connecting to the world outside these borders, so I make sure to pay that bill before all others. My point: globally speaking, and in spite of the so-called Information Gap, the audience for such devices is huge, and content providers are going to have to realize that their material is best served by other than traditional distribution networks. We are a poor country, and many of us do not own personal computers, but it is less costly to pay for an hour of internet connection at the local café than to buy a magazine. Moreover, while many of us wont have PCs anytime soon in all our homes, you can bet we will be buying iPhones. We already buy Razr phones and all the rest. There are practically no landline phones in our homes, but everyone has at least one cell phone. If content is adequately priced for mass distribution, the incentive to buy will be huge; and while photojournalism is not going to be one of the biggest "channels" offering streaming video, it will surely outdo its current distribution rates. And dont forget that while not everyone will want to download the Times or El Mundo onto their iPhone screen, documentary work that appeals thematically to a particular audience would have a greater chance of reaching that audience. I can foresee Dominicans downloading my multimedia piece on cockfighting, for example, simply because that is a theme that is dear to their hearts, though they might not otherwise be interested in documentaries per se. And I could see such presentations achieving a cult status, the way that videos do currently on YouTube.
But it is incumbent upon us photographers and above all the agencies we work with to start considering our options. We need to ride the wave on this one, and not play catch-up as we did when digital hit us. While Magnum in Motion is out in front, and busily consolidating their lead, the other agencies are limping along, and that is going to have severe consequences for the photographers they represent. According to industry pundits these devices and the exigent evolution of mass communication into what is now being called the Fourth Screen and the Seventh Mass Media are going to revolutionize the way we distribute information henceforth. It is only a matter of time before such devices are universal. I believe that this is mainly a matter of change in distribution rather than production, but it will probably have some effect on the narrative forms we choose as well (it has been noted that multimedia better serves the storytelling purpose of photojournalism than does the isolated jpg). Regardless of the esthetic consequences, the financial stakes are high and the time has come to act. Instead of herding like sheep at the Apple stores to buy this thing, we should be pick up the crook and do some herding ourselves -- line up the people for our market and define our market strategies while we have time to speculate. Let those who have ears, hear.