The economies of scale associated with the web and digital media have rapidly eaten away at my former sector, the print industry; a once-dominant business sector that never saw the web coming. Today, in Dictionary Corner, we explore the subtle yet powerful economic drivers behind the seemingly similar words: media and medium.
Oscar Wilde wrote:
the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. A medium is defined as an 'intervening substance through which a sensory impression is conveyed or physical forces are transmitted'. In print the medium is paper and online the medium is the browser.
As a self-confessed print geek I can't help looking at any item of print media from the perspective of an apprenticed litho printer and thinking through the method of manufacture. Here's a case in point: I studied a birthday card my in-laws had sent to Mrs W; the card had a fly sheet tipped inside, in order to keep production costs down the fly sheet was only printed on one side - technically, it was an 8 page section folded down to perform like a 4 page section. Given that buyers still struggle knowing what websites should cost, it struck me that this fly sheet served as a good example of minimising manufacturing cost, its economic method of production tells us that, the communication medium (paper) was cheaper than the (print) media that added value to the paper during the manufacture of a printed product.
Commercial buyers now choose to market with digital (web) media rather than print media because the economies of scale don't work with print as well as they do with the web. There is a unit cost associated with the reproduction of the printed word; for each and every copy of printed material manufactured, there is pre-press time as well as printing plates, paper, ink, press time, bindery time and delivery costs - all of which add-up to the basic and essential resources consumed by print, each of which come with a price tag - the more you print the more it costs.
Websites aren't priced like print - the web scales whereas print doesn't. When you communicate digitally, the more you share the less the unit of production becomes proportionately. With digital, what you're paying for is the cost of production and not the cost of reproduction. It is this cost of production and speed of distribution which makes the web a different and more attractive proposition than print. The cost of digital publishing and reaching a global audience is absolutely nothing when compared to the printed counterpart. Yet there is one identical point of comparison between the web and print and this is that, for both digital and print, the medium is cheaper than the media. And herein lies the danger for web professionals such as ourselves.
You paid nothing for your web browser. You pay nothing to use web services such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Gmail, Wordpress or Pinterest. You pay no more to send one email than you do to send one thousand emails. The general perception, therefore, appears to be that "stuff" you consume through the medium of the browser is free. That's as maybe but the moment you consider engaging a web professional to develop digital media for your business you should neither plead ignorance nor expect something for nothing.
Web professionals add value and bring meaning to the browser (the medium) through the creation of HTML code. We take the time to learn about your business proposition and articulate it in a way that fits the way in which your Customers choose to browse the web. Just because the medium we focus production toward is free at the point of use this doesn't mean that web professionals offering digital media services should work for next to nothing.
The printer's chosen medium, paper, does not come for free and a half decent printing press (be that digital or litho) is likely to cost the printer upwards of £300,000. The print media business model has cost built into it well before the first job is ever printed. Alas, the cost of entry into the digital media sector can very cheap and, all too often, free.
The trouble for buyers of digital media is that the web is still so relatively new and very few buyers have commercial benchmarks against which to price. It's far easier to phone around and discover wild variations in price between web designers than it is with printers. So where does the difference in pricing come from? Web designers can be found working in bedrooms, working part-time, working on websites as a hobby and working in developing economies. All too often digital media buyers start out with the wrong price benchmark when basing commercial investment decisions upon the notion that websites should be as cheap as web services.
Just as digital media eroded away at print media's marketplace so too the pricing of web designers playing at web design undermine the pricing of web professionals who have committed and invested in systems and processes. You see, the cost of digital media is based upon production cost whereas the cost of print media is set by manufacturing costs. Print has a rock-solid manufacturer's pricing model whereas digital's pricing model is, at best, creative and, at worst, cheap. If your digital media is cheap then the only reason it's cheap is because somebody doesn't care about your business and is not going to spend the time presenting your business proposition to your customers.
When you're buying a website you're commissioning something that doesn't yet exist. You're asking someone to articulate your business proposition and make your business fit the web. You're buying the time, the skill and the expertise of the web professional that's creating the website for you. You're buying code, digital code that needs to make
perfect use of an imperfect medium.
I like your last paragraph. I think might be better offer an analogy:
Buying a website is like commissioning a portrait of yourself. It doesn't currently exist.
Now you could ask my 8 year son Jack to paint the portrait, in which case you will get a portrait and it will be very cheap (probably a couple of lollipops!). Question is, will it be any good? Will it actually be recognisable as you?
Alternatively you could commission a professional portrait artist to paint you. It will certainly cost you a lot more, but is it more likely to be a good likeness of you? Will it meet your need?
What Steve is talking about here is value as opposed to price, a personal hobbyhorse of mine. You could get a portrait done for a couple of lollipops which is not fit for purpose or you could spend a reasonable amount on a professional, who will spend the time necessary and possess the experience and knowledge to produce a picture that is a good likeness.
Same applies to websites.
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Thanks Guy - the relevance of your portrait analogy is uncanny. The Oscar Wilde quote's lifted from The Portrait of Dorian Gray [download for free], a book that examines and thoroughly ridicules vanity. You can find vanity websites everywhere, written about how fab the commissioning business is rather than outlining what the company can do for the customer.
Author of 'The Art of Search' - the SEO strategy book 2,500 years in the making.http://www.theartofsearch.co.uk