Why I'm starting a newsletter on the intersection of tech and the cultural industries.
Today I'm launching my latest new media venture: Cybercultural. It's a subscription-based email newsletter for people who work in the cultural and creative industries, and tech professionals whose work intersects with the cultural industries.
The "cultural industries" are often called the "creative industries" and the definition is contested. But in a nutshell, I'll be writing about digital disruption in the following industries:
television, movies and online video
radio and podcasting
newspapers, magazines, blogs and email newsletters
music recording and publishing
GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums)
The "cyber" in Cybercultural refers to the massive impact digital companies have had on these industries over the past decade. You only need to look at the likes of Spotify, Netflix and Amazon, to realise that internet technology has profoundly changed the way cultural products are produced, distributed, paid for, and consumed. That's what I'll be covering here on Cybercultural.
Specifically, I'll be examining the evolving business models of the cultural industries as they are impacted by digital technologies. I’ll also regularly report on new internet products that creators and those in the cultural industries need to be aware of, just as I used to do at my previous publication ReadWriteWeb.
My thesis for the cultural industries
The best email newsletters have a unique, insightful way of looking at the world. My background as founder and Editor-in-Chief of ReadWriteWeb from 2003-2012 gave me a bird’s eye view of what did (and didn’t) work in the Web 2.0 era - a.k.a. the social Web. That’s informed how I view the world now, especially with regards to the cultural industries.
One of the key aspects of Web 2.0 was that anyone could create content on the Web, thanks to simple online tools like wikis, blogs and (from around 2009) social media. I named my previous site ReadWriteWeb to reflect that sea change: from a broadcast world where gatekeepers ruled, into a read/write world where anybody could contribute.
While the read/write Web brought many positive things to our culture, such as Wikipedia, Flickr and social networks like LinkedIn, the downsides also became apparent over time. In particular, I learned that “User Generated Content” doesn’t make for a great arts and cultural sector. You won’t find much artistic or cultural merit in your Facebook or Twitter feed. Instead, what you see in those feeds is a lot of useless noise, one-sided opinions and controversy.
So my contention, on launching Cybercultural, is that professional creators are needed now more than ever. While I’m glad Web 2.0 gave us the tools to become professional creators (if we have the requisite talent and perseverance), it also made it tougher for creators - and cultural institutions - to make their mark in a noisy and often superficial online world.
I’ll proudly state this upfront: this newsletter will be an advocate for professional creators and the cultural organisations that support them. The major challenges of this era are how to find an audience, how to get peoples’ attention, and how to make money. Cybercultural is on the case for you.
Making a living in this cultural era
As a creator myself, I'm doing my best to find my way in the post-advertising world of online media. When I ran ReadWriteWeb, advertising was the majority of my company's revenue. And I must admit, for a while it was a lucrative way to earn a living in media.
Well, those days are long gone. Facebook and Google have squeezed out all but the biggest media companies (NY Times, Washington Post, et al), so that independent publications (like Cybercultural) can no longer earn enough advertising revenue to survive.
Thankfully, new platform companies like Substack have come onto the scene to provide an alternative business model for people like me: subscriptions.
But why an email newsletter? Wasn't I preaching the gospel of RSS Readers back in Web 2.0? Why yes, I was - that is until Google killed Google Reader in 2013, and people started using social media instead. For a few years, social media worked pretty well for creators like me. But now, we can no longer rely on social media to disseminate our content. The increasingly opaque algorithms of Facebook, Twitter and other companies make it almost impossible to know whether our content is even being seen - much less interacted with. Hence email, an old-fashioned but still reliable method of delivering content. Plus, you can always reply to an email (and I'll definitely respond if you're a subscriber!).
So that's how I've adapted to this era of digital media…let's see how it works out. But I won't just be focusing on my own turf. With Cybercultural, I will also examine how creative professionals in other industries are adapting to digital disruption. It's been just as difficult - if not even more so - for filmmakers, authors, performing artists, and many other creatives to earn a living in this era. So I'll be digging into the new digital business models for all cultural industries, to find out best practices and to shine a light on the strategies that work nowadays.
If you’ve previously signed up to my personal website or the Creator Interviews website, you’re already on the Cybercultural list.
If you’ve been forwarded this article by email, or have clicked through from social media, I hope you'll sign up and give Cybercultural a shot. Especially if you work in the cultural or creative industries, or at a tech company that intersects with those industries in any way.
All content will be free during the beta period, while I ramp up Cybercultural and hone the formula. At some point in the near future, I will enable subscriber-only content (you’ll need to opt-in to become a paying subscriber).
I'd really appreciate your support; and I promise I won't let you down!