The Bottom Line.
In this Asia-Pacific Insight, we discuss current developments in the media and information industry with editor and publisher Catya Martin. While the information economy is at the heart of our society, the rise and continuous growth of the so-called ‘connection economy’ also increasingly matters. Information and communication is now channeled through digital means, and the impact is very significant as far as the industry is concerned. the connection economy is giving a major role to digital media whilst pushing paper away, thus revolutionizing our relationship with information. Words have a different function and a different power. And the economic model is changing inevitably.
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Digital Media | Catya Martin Says the Connection Economy Means Change.
Hello Catya. As the Founder and Chief-Editor of the French Community magazine Trait D’union, what trends do you see in the Asia-Pacific media industry?
Catya Martin: Sadly enough, I increasingly see a loss of interest regarding the role of the press. This is very paradoxical, but the media landscape is changing. On the one hand, people have access to more and more information. On the other hand, the information is literally consumed without being appreciated and digested. At the end of the day, the role of the media is changing from counter-power to mass-market good.
Is the trend affecting the press industry in general or is it limited to digital media?
CM: The trend is very much related to the online media industry because – connection economy and digital transformation helping – people increasingly use online sources. Nonetheless, the paper side of the industry is very strongly impacted, from an economic perspective and from a “contribution” perspective.
Can you elaborate on the economic aspect first?
CM: From an economic perspective, paper formats are having a hard time. People keep reading elite newspapers on paper as part of a personal routine because they enjoy the contact with paper and because taking a moment to read an actual magazine or newspaper is time “off”.
Other than that, however, most people just switch to digital media very naturally because their phone brings articles to them automatically in the morning, because they receive alerts or because they read what people share on their favorite social media platforms.
Digital means flexibility and ease of use. So, paper supports are disappearing due to a lower demand. You do the maths.
What about the “contribution” perspective you were mentioning?
CM: The press has always contributed to the society, and this contribution is shifting very dramatically as a result of digitalization. Very important changes are taking place without people even noticing.
When news used to be printed and distributed on paper, journalists (and commentators in general) had no choice but to make sure that their sources were reliable and that their insights could be trusted. Nowadays, with the rise of digital media, information can be written, published, corrected, republished, deleted or even hacked. There are plenty of filters which never existed, and that has a major impact.
Would you say that digitalization has an impact on the value of information?
Catya Martin: A double-sided impact, actually.
On the one hand, digitalization means that information is losing its worth as a source of knowledge. People consume information but they don’t give it much value. In people’s mind, what is written on paper stays whereas the digital disappears. Books on your shelves are part of your daily life, right? But the books on your electronic reader don’t. Once you read them, you move on and they don’t matter anymore. The same goes for the digital press.
On the other hand, digitalization means that information is gaining value as a commodity. Websites publish more and more content but they don’t do it to inform. They do it to increase the visibility of their ads. Articles are now stuffed with ads up to a point that people use ad blockers. Hence, companies put ad-blocker-blockers! There is a reason why we increasingly replace the term ‘information age’ with the term ‘connection economy’, don’t you think?
What are the other aspects of this connection economy?
CM: The connection economy means that words have a different power. If you own a blog, you can influence by giving your own opinion. If you know how to position your content on search engines, you can work on replacing one information with another, progressively. If you have followers, you can decide to propagate one information of your liking, even if the said information is false or fake. In this case, too, you have an opportunity to influence.
A conclusion here is that while the press used to have an immense power, nowadays this power is countered by those who have the ability to use digital media as a filter. To some extent, this means that counter-information has become a real industry.
This trend would seem fairly global and general, how does it reflect in Asia-Pacific terms?
Catya Martin: Something worth noting is that paper press tends to remain strong in countries where access to the internet and digital transformation penetration are limited. And, often, these countries are also the ones where political control over the press is the highest.
In such cases, paper holds a dominant position because it remains a very powerful way to spread a form of mass information that is perceived as being credible. Then people will process it, digest it and remember it because there is no abundance of information.
You mentioned earlier that some people may have a privileged relationship with certain paper formats. Does it mean that paper is perceived as bringing more value, somehow?
CM: To some extent, yes, but from an economic perspective (again) it is easier to create value from digital formats. In Hong Kong, for instance, at least two magazines have disappeared over the past year. HK Magazine disappeared in late 2016, and The Peak disappeared over the summer 2018. Both used to be perceived as being on the high-end, but that wasn’t enough apparently. At the end of the day, paper does not pay.
How do you see the media industry in fifteen to twenty years?
CM: That is a really good question, but I have no idea. Many people in the industry would love to know the answer if you find it please let me know first!
Jokes apart, however, the long-term way of thinking brings in very important questions. For instance, if the press is fully digitalized by then, how do we make sure that the information remains reliable? How do we make sure that the information out there is genuine, verified, unaltered and trustworthy? Do we create some sort of press standards and regulations? How do we handle digitalization?
That sounds like a controversial suggestion…
CM: Yes, of course. Suggesting the creation of press standards is largely counter-intuitive because journalists and societies want a free press. But what happens when free press is replaced by social media, tweet-politics and digital manipulation because nobody cares?
Saying that we need a happy and reliable press sounds like a naive, rainbows and lollipops fantasy world, but the stakes are real. After all, banks and companies are benchmarked and monitored by rating agencies like Moodys and the like, so why should we kick good practices out of the way for the information industry. Oh, and of course, we also need to educate the young generation so that its relationship with the media goes beyond social media.
Would you say that some countries are more reliable than others?
Catya Martin: For some time now the United States has had a very strong reputation in terms of information seriousness. There are so many media channels that every information is relayed multiple times. By the same token, this reliance on media and digital media means that any mistake of fake news is also identified and when that happens a ‘name and shame’ process starts very naturally. Now that President Trump uses Tweeter as a press channel and that he questions the legitimacy of those who disagree with him, the role of the press is even more important as a counter-power.
And on the Asia-Pacific side of things?
CM: In the Asia-Pacific region, I would say that things are more complicated because access to information is different. China is extremely advanced in terms of digital transformation and the technological progress out there are amazing, but digitalization is not complete and access to information is very controversial. In Japan, the information mainly consists of technology trends and news but the role of information channels is limited. In Australia things also work differently, information is digested differently and TV or paper remain the favorite ways.
Does the available infrastructure play a big role?
CM: Difficult question. I would say yes and no.
Yes, because quite obviously the absence of internet means that your access to information and digital media will be limited. Hence other information sources such as radio or TV and of course paper will remain important.
No, because the lack of internet is not always a problem. We used to have information before the rise of the internet, for starters. Digitalization is a fairly new trend! In addition, look at the African example. The internet is rare, but the telecommunication companies have developed robust systems which enable an incredible payment-by-phone network which means that connectivity can happen with various types of technology.
People talk about new technologies and the Blockchain a lot these days, could that be a solution for information liability improvement?
CM: In theory yes. The Blockchain is sold everywhere as a decentralized ledger that keeps data and information in a trustable way, but market penetration is extremely limited so far so the impact of the technology is null at this stage.
Today, the technology available enables everyone to write and publish everything and anything. As I said before, it means you can say something, alter it, delete it, use it to replace what someone else has said or make it irrelevant thanks to fake social media accounts. We are not there yet.
Do you think people are aware of the complexity of the information market?
Catya Martin: No, people have no idea. Take the example of Facebook and Tweeter. There is a race nowadays for followers so businesses invest a lot to acquire followers. Digital media is a big trendy word, but as a publisher, my reality is that my Facebook subscribers – who signed up to receive my alerts – will not be notified unless I pay. The ratio of readers I can get to naturally is ridiculous.
On Tweeter the logic is different. People follow you so that you follow them back. Often they have software which tells them who to follow or not, and if people don’t follow them in return they just unfollow them. What that means is that having followers is what matters, but what people have to say doesn’t really matter. Information is a big thing, but understanding the information market is complex.
My feeling though is that this trend is less relevant in Asia. I can’t really explain why. Call it a gut feeling.
The downsides of the connection economy, then…
CM: Yes. Talking about the connection economy, there is actually another layer of complexity for the readers. Because the internet has become so important, online marketing has also become part of the information circuit.
Marketing agencies write advertising content that passes as information, therefore it can become difficult – not to say impossible – for the reader to make a difference between information and induced reputation-building content. To say things differently, there are different competing terms when it comes to digitalization: media, paper media, digital media, social media, social networks… and each term has its own meaning and market. Complex!
What is the impact for press groups?
CM: Well, I mentioned previously that quality magazines have disappeared over the past two years here in Hong Kong. These belonged to the South China Morning Post and some of that is still available in an online format, but all information providers and media groups won’t survive the digitalization and digital transformation trend. If a transition has already been prepared then chances are that the ‘media to digital media’ process will go smoothly, but for many this will not be the case.
This also means that press groups need to find new business models that give more credit to quality and reliable information, which is interesting. For instance, in France, one of the leading newspapers initially gave its online information away for free. When all the competition faced a lack of liquidity problem, Le Figaro decided to lock the information from the readers, to make it available to the paying customers only. They got mocked at the time, but they were right. The readers followed and agreed to pay for reliable information. Interesting signal.
Last but not least, we usually ask our expert contributors to give us a tip or two on the keys to success and failure when it comes to doing business in the region. What would you say?
Catya Martin: The best way to fail is to get here thinking that you know everything. In reality, the best way to succeed is to be flexible and give people some time and wiggle room so that they can add their own input. The Asian culture requires trust, time, patience and persistence. This is the best investment if you ask me.
Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash
Catya Martin | Founder & Chief Editor, Trait D’union
Catya Martin is the Founder and Chief Editor of Trait d’Union, a magazine written for the French community in Hong Kong and Mainland China (Shanghai, Canton, Beijing, Shenzhen, Wuhan).
Catya has a very international experience as a communication professional, as she worked as a CEO adviser, is familiar with political spheres, and has always been involved in associative life. As an expert in her field, she has strong ideas and opinions on the press’economic model and on the various impacts of digital media and digitalization in general.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of their author(s) only and do not reflect those of The Asia-Pacific Circle or of its editors unless otherwise stated.
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