4/13/2005

Food for Thought: One

I’ve been thinking lately of the similarity between food and content. Both are commodities. What is more fungible than a wheat or orange? True, the occasional InstaPundit or Gawker may create a branded identity. But the Skirkys of cyberspace are largely correct when they observe that, under the present system, content must be free and only A-list bloggers can expect to draw advertising. It’s almost enough to make me shut my laptop and crawl back into bed.

Then I think about farmers, and how they managed to prosper in years gone by, in part, by banding together to form producer cooperatives. They aggregated themselves to overcome the problem they faced as commodity sellers – the railroads upon whom they depended to carry their wares to market were far more powerful than the lone farmer. In fact, the power struggle between farmers and railroads resulted in the passage in 1887 of the Interstate Commerce Act, which made railroads America’s first regulated industry.

Anyway, that's history. But modern content producers find themselves in much the same position of powerlessness vis a vis the railroads of the information age – broadband carriers and big portals. These institutions aggregate content – presumably under terms advantageous to themselves. Would it make sense for content creators to form producer cooperatives to increase their market power by aggregating themselves?

That’s a question I’ve been kicking around lately and before I lose the links that I’ve gathered to do my research, I'd better throw them up to make them easier to find. They include the National Cooperative Business Association and the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. An organization called Cooperative Life explains how to start a coop and offers some examples from history, including how Benjamin Franklin formed one of the earliest known coops in 1752.

There’s much more that could and should be said on this topic, but I have to get on with my day. I’ll pick up the thread at a future date.

Tom Abate MiniMediaGuy Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media

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