The Supply Question

I write for two newspapers, and love nothing more than flipping through the pages over a good cup of coffee. But I still get the vast majority of the commentary, analysis and hard news I read in a day from my computer. None of that is going to change.

That said, it’s hard to imagine how this essay by Nicholas Carr could be more wrong. While his analysis is dead on, his conclusions consist of little more than wishful thinking.

From his post:

“The fundamental problem facing the news business today does not lie in Google’s search engine. It lies in the structure of the news business itself.”

This is exactly right. The digitisation of publishing and distribution militates strongly in favour of bytes over atoms. While holding a newspaper in one’s hands is not without a certain appeal, the desire for specific information, delivered quickly and at low cost, trumps the old approach most of the time.

Carr thinks the problem is supply, and he’s right, as far as that goes. But he’s dreaming if he thinks there’s any practical way to arbitrarily limit supply in an economy defined by ubiquity and ease of access. The problem is mechanical in nature: Bytes are infinitely replicable and transportable. Reducing the number of bytes requires that we control all sources of replication and I can’t see this happening even in a police-state online environment.

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