Last month, Ben Elowitz reposted "The scarcity index: A predictor of the most (and least) valuable content in media" on his "Digital Quarters" site. Elowitz is the co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint, "a technology platform company that is reinventing the media model on the social web."
In his scarcity post, Elowitz argues that "impactful, singular, irreproducible" content gains the lion's share of the value in an increasingly content-abundant universe. He offers examples of "once-in-a-lifetime" and live events, transformative experiences, as well as content offered by singular talents with unique points of view.
There's an appealing infographic ladder, one that reveals what I think is a core flaw in Elowitz's argument. All of his examples are conventional media and entertainment objects: videos, concerts, sports events, seminars, television programming, databases and periodicals, music, and user-generated content.
This focus on objects leads him to see "rare" as the functional equivalent of "scarce", but it precludes the value of "useful". Elowitz asserts:
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.
According to Elowitiz, the solution to media abundance is the restoration of artificial scarcity, perhaps through platforms like Wetpaint, which drives traffic via Twitter and Facebook. This might work for a limited time, but content creation, management and dissemination now take place with few barriers to entry. Any short-term advantage dissipates quickly.
That's why I've argued for thinking about "content as a service", in which we organize our business to help media consumers, not just sell them objects. That approach is sustainable, sticky and potentially scalable.