‘What is free is actually costing us a fortune’

30 June 2007

Proponents of user-generated content, participatory journalism, social networking, citizen journalism and all the rest can’t stop talking of the “democratisation of the media”. We are, we are told, being given more information, more perspectives, more opinions, more everything—and most of it without filters or fees.

But in a powerful and provocative new book, The Cult of the Amateur, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Andrew Keen argues that Web 2.0 isn’t what it is being made out to be.

He says deep analysis has given way to superficial observations; considered judgment to shrill opinion. Mainstream media and intellectual property rights have been undermined. And misinformation, rumours, speculation, spin are flapping around in a sea of anonymity.

“What you may not realize is that what is free is actually costing us a fortune,” Keen writes. “The new winners—Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie — are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.’ Our culture is essentially cannibalizing its young, destroying the very sources of the content they crave.”

Read Michiko Kakutani‘s review: The Cult of the Amateur

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