In his 1996 book, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte discusses the concept of atoms and bits. Since the economics of the past were based on the manufacturing and distribution of atoms, the content that we consumed came in the form of paper, film, vinyl, or magnetic tape. Yet as we began digitizing our content and putting it online, the need to manufacture and transport atoms became obsolete in favor of distributing content as bits.
Bit-based publications have an economic advantage over their atom-based cousins simply because they don’t need paper, ink, trucks, or fuel to deliver their content. The ramifications of this economic reality have been chronicled in Paul Gillin’s Newspaper Death Watch and it was only a matter of time before atom-based publication losses trickled down into the distribution channels.
Out of Town News has been a fixture in the very center of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1955. As someone who grew up in the area, I can’t count the number of times I stopped by Out of Town News, either on my way to or fro the “T” Station to pickup a newspaper. The iconic newsstand recently decided not to renew its lease, and will be vacating its prime real estate — perhaps as soon as the end of the month.
Ironically, when bit-based publication Wicked Local.com asked about the closing, General Manager Kallol Barua said, “Nobody buys newspapers anymore. People are reading everything online mostly.”
The new Economics of Influence is rippling through atom-based information and entertainment industries, as those involved distribution (think the Music Industry) are squeezed in favor of those who distribute as bits. From a nostalgic perspective, it’s sad. Out of Town News occupies a soft spot in my heart. But from an opportunity perspective, we live in very exciting times. The entire way we as humans create, distribute and consume content is in flux. Old industries are dying while new industries are being born. Nobody knows exactly how its gonna shake out, but anyone who has studied history knows that changes like these have always made the society richer as opposed to poorer. You just need faith.
Do you have faith?
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/