The Media Scarcity Index

A sure-fire predictor of the most (and least) valuable content in publishing.
A sure-fire predictor of the most (and least) valuable content in publishing.

As digital modes have transformed media, whole sectors have lost something fundamental and valuable: scarcity. With an explosion in new content creation and effortless replication of so much of what is produced, we have gone from scarcity to surplus. And we all know the economic implications of that. 

The Problem with Abundance

With every byte duplicated in nanoseconds and every outstanding original article summarized into so many blog posts, this duplication and substitution has commoditized the media industry’s greatest asset: its content. And as a result, monetization of digital content is lower and revenue has suffered, without proportional relief on production cost.

Is there no last refuge of scarcity in media anymore? I’ve been thinking about the elements that can still command a premium in the digital era, by virtue of their ability to make us pay attention with something that can’t be replicated: live sports, concerts, transformative experiences. If of no other value to media, Snapchat is proof at least that we still value the ephemeral “right now.”

Finding Scarcity

For a media company, the key to surviving in this age of abundance is finding and capitalizing on those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and not-so-everyday moments in a way that commands audience attention. With that in mind, here’s a look at various content categories arranged from extreme scarcity (and thus highest value) to extreme abundance (a.k.a. the Swamp of Sadness and Devalued Content), via the ever ownable and attention-getting format of the infographic:

Crosscut archive image.

This post first appeared on Ben Elowitz's Digital Quarters blog.


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