The Chaos Scenario: Amid the Ruins of Mass Media, the Choice for Business Is Stark: Listen or Perish

Article excerpt

* The Chaos Scenario: Amid the Ruins of Mass Media, the Choice for Business Is Stark: Listen or Perish. Bob Garfield. Nashville, TN: Stielstra Publishing, 2009. 306 pp. $19.99 pbk.

One of the popular debates about the Internet and related digital technologies is whether they represent an evolutionary change or a revolutionary one. It is fairly easy to argue for the former position, since fundamentally all that the Internet does is to lower the cost of transmitting information. However, it is much more fun to argue for the latter view, and Bob Garfield is clearly in this second camp.

In The Chaos Scenario, Garfield uses a mix of colorful language and well-chosen examples to argue that the so-called digital revolution "isn't just some news-magazine cover headline. It's an actual revolution, yielding revolutionary changes, thousands or millions of victims and an entirely new way of life." The principie implication of this shift is a fundamental undermining of most existing business models for media firms - Garfield envisions the end of traditional advertising agencies, newspapers and other traditional news organizations, and most network television programming.

Garfield, a longtime media columnist and host of National Public Radio's On the Media, offers a clear picture of how the advertising business will need to change in this new world, as well as some thoughts about what this will mean for the news business. The central focus of Garfield's picture of the future is what he calls "listenomics," which he defines as "the art and science of cultivating relationships with individuals in a connected, increasingly open-source environment." He then commences to offer a series of examples of what this will look like. These range from Lego Corporation's "mindstorms" to a vast array of "widgets" for the computer desktop to virtual, selfdefined religious congregations to "ten rules for word-of-mouth advertising."

Garfield clearly hopes that listenomics will catch on and become as widely recognized as freakonomics or wikinomics. In reality, this is a variation on a relatively old argument in the management literature about the need to listen to your customer and to be willing to change. And the idea of building individual relationships with customers is central to most service models of the media business. However, what makes this concept feel new here is an endless series of examples demonstrating that most media managers (including some very prominent ones) don't seem to get it - it may be part of the academic literature, but that knowledge clearly has yet to transfer to the various media industries.

The focus that Garfield puts on listening actually hinders the potential value of the book. It causes him to miss the opportunity to make more of two changes that underlie listenomics, changes that are more fundamental for advertising and journalism professionals: the declining importance of mass, and the fact that information (content) is no longer what is scarce. …


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