Maybe Monetizing Is Not The Answer
OK… but how much are you going to pay me to do this?
The content of the web continues to grow by leaps and bounds – almost all of it free – and yet we continue to ask the same question: “how do you monetize this’.
Perhaps we are asking the wrong question.
Perhaps in the online world, money does not matter.
That may seem an idiot’s perspective at first, but only from our 20th Century view of the world.
The 21st Century may prove to be a very different place.
Money was not always the locus of culture, or the great motivator it is today.
For nearly 1,000 years following the collapse of the Roman Empire (very much a money-oriented culture), the Western World was a society in which money came to be nearly non-existent.
The currency of the Middle Ages was Salvation.
That was what people worked their entire lives for. That was the primary focus of all their attentions.
The site of the World Trade Center sits empty today because anyone in the real estate business in New York can do the simple math:Â there is already a glut on the commercial real estate market.Â Why would anyone in their right mind build more office space that cannot be rented out? And if a building does get financed, there is a pretty straightforward way to compute the cost of the building vs. the time to build it vs. the projected rental income.
The great cathedrals of Europe were not built in this way.
No one sat down and did a cost/benefit analysis when Notre Dame was initiated.
And those Cathedrals often took hundreds of years to complete.Â A craftsman starting work on it would be pretty sure that he would not see the final product within his lifetime.
They were built as acts of faith, which to our secular world may seem naive, but to the world of Medieval Europe, it was the core of society.
As was Salvation.
And it was for Salvation that everyone worked, thought, breathed and lived.
The source of Salvation was the Church, the Papacy and the Priesthood.
And people would do pretty much anything to gain Salvation – or to avoid Excommunication – which meant spending eternity in Hell. Even Kings stood in fear of what the Church could do to them.
Certainly very few people today spend all their efforts seeking salvation.
We used to spend all our efforts seeking money.
But this may be changing.
Today, I think, we are moving from a society focused on profits to a society focused on the acquisition of fame and notoriety as end goals – as Salvation was once an end goal.
The search is not so much to be rich as it is to be famous, if even for only a few seconds.
On the surface, Balloon Boy or The Real Housewives are our cultural icons. Not interested in money, per se, but rather in fame. But in a larger sense, the tens of millions who blog daily (including this one), are not getting paid for it, yet they continue to bang away, producing vast volumes of materials daily for no money. The currency? A few moments of notice somewhere, maybe, if they get lucky.
In Julie and Julia, Julie takes on the task of spending a year cooking all of Julia Child’s recipes and blogging about it.Â Does she get paid for this? Nope. Does she expend enormous amounts of money and time and effort to do this? Yep. And the pay -off in the film? The New York Times writes about her. Fame. At last.
I can see this cultural shift when we send out our minions with their video cameras to shoot small stories.
Carrying a camera – indeed the very act of carrying a camera and shooting video – gains them access to places and people they would never see in a lifetime where they on their own.Â They become, in a small sense, the conduit for fame. As Medieval priests were the conduit for Salvation.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, and it is just starting – driven by a web that both makes fame far more accessible to the ‘average’ person, and at the same time, shortens the period of ‘famousness’ because now the competition is so very intense.
Think about it.
Who are the icons of our secular era? The Saints?Â The images that receive immediate recognition and need no explanation.
Elvis?Â Marilyn Monroe?Â JFK? Michael Jackson?
These are not captains of industry. These are not Horatio Alger stories of greatness. They all ended in tragedy.Â They were all a mess in their own way.Â It was not about the money. It was about the fame.Â They are great Sainthood material because of their suffering and their fame.
The focus of all attention in the 12th Century was on the Path to Salvation.Â The focus of all attention in the 21st Century is on the Path to Recognition.
The newest and surest Path to Recognition seems to be the web, (though TV is still pretty good – get on a Reality Show if you can!)
And maybe we’re never going to ‘monetize’ the web. Maybe that is as dumb a discussion as Medieval Monks asking how to drive Salvation into the newly emerging village marketplaces. It doesn’t fit.
Maybe instead we should start thinking about a culture driven by a need for Fame.