I'm calling a 'time of death' for London's media industry – And Paul Carr is its first victim

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Episode 36: Someone has to say it – London media is dead. And I say it.

Ok, Ok. So that’s a slightly reminiscent headline, based on Guardian columnist Paul Carr‘s gentle savaging of the “London 2.0” scene after his week with The Traveling Geeks last week. Read on, and I’ll explain…

To be honest I wanted to fisk that post line by line last week but after running The Europas I was frankly too knackered, to use a technical term. Plus the commenters on his column did a pretty good job.

But the simple retort to Paul is that, yes, the tech Scene in London which based its business model on some dog-eared idea for a social network or, yet another “advertising” business model based on being bigger than God inside 2 weeks is over. What London’s (and Europe’s for that matter) startup people are now concentrating on, are a myriad different business models, many of which speak to the straightened economic times in which we live. (I’m not going into the fact that Paul seemed to want to find “profitable” London startups, when hardly any Silicon Valley ones are, something which seemed a tad unfair, but I digress).

There are myriad examples out there. These days I try not to concentrate my fire exclusively on London because the tech startup scene is spread complicatedly across Europe. But since Pauls’ article was about London, let’s look at “London” startups.

Yes, “London 2.0” companies based on boom era economics have had it. But here’s a few others doing well:

Badoo: A very revenue driven business model based on mashing up social networking and SMS voting. Russian investors but London based, seriously.

Seatwave: Fan-to-fan ticketing startup backed by Atlas and doing very well (and no Michael Jackson refund headaches).

Wonga: Credit-crunch oriented startup allowing user-controlled pay-day loans. Actually a lot better than a credit card for modern life’s little cash-flow problems, if anyone wants to take me up on that fight.

SpeedSell: “Recycling” the stuff you’d normally put on ebay but then have massive hassles with the buyer – you just get paid. Just in time warehousing.

Huddle: : Winner for Best Enterprise Startup at the Europas. Need I say more? Ok: Cost effective collaboration, from free to fremium, and the *only* non-US partner for LinkedIn.

Moshi Monsters: Subscription-based virtual world for youngsters where parents pay to have their kids fooled into doing maths while trying to keep their furbie-like alive. Funded, and pulling revenues.

My best case study for the death of “London 2.0” and the re-birth of “London Something Else Oh” is Skimlinks, or Skimbit as was. Two years ago an irrepressible Alicia Novara badgered me into listening to her pitch. Printed out. On A4. In a coffee shop.

I wasn’t wholly convinced by Skimbit’s model: group decision making for friends, linked into affiliate deals with retailers. Very hard to get consumer traction and “social shopping” has been a very hard nut to crack. Arguably, no-one has done it.

What happened to Skimbit? It’s “2.0 boom” era business model didn’t get traction, but Alicia Navarro, being an extremely good entrepreneur, realised the affiliate part of her business was the *real* business she was after. She turned the company on a dine. A few months later Skimlinks was funded by NESTA and pulling revenues.

So in other words, yes “London 2.0” circa 2004-7 is indeed over, as identified by Carr. There are numerous businesses that just didn’t make it. But should London be tarred with their brush? Most likely we are talking here about businesses that were boom-era ones which weren’t robust enough to survive a downturn. But real entrepreneurs fall, or should I say fail, forwards.

And London is more complex than that characterisation. It’s a startup base for some excellent businesses. But as a wider European hub it is attracting some of the best and brightest across Europe. Just ask Videoplaza (Stockholm-based but in London several times a month to talk to VCs or partners). Or Zemanta (developed in Slovenia, but based as a company in London). Europas winner Soundcloud recently opened an office here. I could go on.

But finally, why did I title this the death of London’s media industry?

Here’s why.

Today Paul Carr’s excellent and entertaining column, NSFW, was culled from The Guardian for budgetary reasons. It’s ironic. Just after calling ‘time of death’ for “London 2.0”, the trad media called ‘time of death’ on his column, borne out of its own dying throes.

That’s a huge shame, but it’s merely indicative of the state the traditional media industry is in: falling revenues, eyeballs migrating online, digital revenues not kicking in etc. And yet, here’s a newspaper culling a column that almost certainly punched above its weight in terms of traffic, and probably got a lot more comments and reader interaction than the average post on that site. How many traditional journos would get this kind of reaction?

That’s significant because at the same time “traditional” journalists (some of whom are my best friends btw) are doing their best to try and grapple with writing stories, blogging, posting videos and metaphorically washing up the boss’s coffee cup in the staff kitchen at the same time.

But are they given the new tools we bloggers get to play with? Probably and usually not. As Kevin Anderson of The Guardian has famously (at least in blogger/journo circles) said: “never travel with The Man’s computer” and expect a world of “outdated, coffee-encrusted computers“. In other words: media people in traditional organisations are not getting to use the same tools us crazy bloggers get to play with, and that’s why we are often beating them to the punch. And let’s not forget, the Internet is now the office, not a large building we need to commute to.

As I argued at a recent Chatham House dinner organised by The Glasshouse: the person that masters these new tools the fastest tends to win. A case in point is Twitter. Did anyone realise how important Twitter would become for traffic to a web site? No. But bloggers, using these tools all day, darn well did. Why do you think many leading blogs now have “retweet” buttons? The newspapers and other trad media sites still think their “Reddit” button is terribly cutting edge.

Finally, a case in point. Today, poor old tech reporter for Channel 4 news Ben Cohen innocently headed over to the dubious Morefollowers.net to try and get more followers on Twitter, bless him.

Never mind that this site says: “Our software will guarantee that you get the maximum number of followers possible for your buisness [sic.], website, or fan page!”

Never mind that it carries the following disclaimer:’

“Our site does not phish accounts, any content on this site may not be 100% percent accurate. By using this site you agree VIPFollowers.com is not to be mentioned or involved with any legal matters.”

Now there’s some T&Cs to inspire confidence!

No, never mind. Because the London media industry, even as it coughs and splutters on life support, doesn’t care that the people who are “creating” the content they base their businesses on are being thrown to the lions. These people are scrabbling around, trying out the tools the bloggers obsess about, but still having to virtually “cook and clean” and keep the CEO’s parking space free of litter. (Hint: the real new media doesn’t have parking spaces).
So when does London’s media industry die? Well, maybe it’s not so much dying as regenerating, Doctor Who-like (illustrated), into a brand new model, before our very eyes. But it’s definitely happening. Right now.

  • http://wildirishguy.wordpress.com Damon Oldcorn

    Now that’s what I call a real Journalist at work.

  • http://web.2point1.com Tim

    I felt rather sorry for @benjamincohen… a tad embarassing. I wouldn’t read too much into that event regarding the context of this post though.

  • http://www.adventura.com Simon prockter

    Nice work Mike!

  • http://www.dannywhatmough.com/ Danny Whatmough

    Great post – agree entirely. I’ll miss Paul’s column on the Guardian (not that I always agree with him you understand), but as you say, he’s not lost – we’ll just have to find him elsewhere…

  • http://www.unitedagents.co.uk/interactive Adam {@adammmartin}

    As a man fluent in old media and now an aspirant tech esperanto(ist) with two start-ups under his belt, one success, one in final death throes and a proponent of the UK tech scene, the message is clear ‘think across the Pond’. We’re a bit too On A Golden Pond right now. Failure still comes with a stigma, it’s a cultural thang. Fail fast, nudge this, tipping point that… buzz phrases, but worth listening to.

    Like the UK film industry the tech scene can’t compete, we ain’t got the CGI budget, so we need the contacts, we need the breaks and we need to innovate. Look at Spotify, worthy Europa Winner, it’s not an innovative idea, it’s damn hard working making those deals with labels, but it’s gelled, likewise Huddle, balls of steal of take on 37Signals at their own game and win. That’s what we’re about, courage and determination plus the tech adage ‘iteration’.

    I’ve trawled Europe meeting techs and creatives in digital studios, eeking out ideas they have, but neither the courage nor the finance to make them real – therein lies our problem, contacts, self-belief and a lucky break.

    We can’t afford the budget of Transformers 2, but we can follow Shane Meadows with Dead Man Walking and… well anything by Shane. We’re transit van not winnebago.

    There are no norms in tech, no fixed variables, that’s the joy, so let’s have confidence, let’s echo Mike and call time on the old guard, wish good luck to the new guard with an old guard expense account and think low budget, think disruptive and think just fucking do it.

  • http://www.dannywhatmough.com/2009/07/13/cool-stuff-july-13-2009/ Cool stuff – July 13, 2009 — Danny Whatmough.com

    […] I’m calling a ‘time of death’ for London’s media industry. Episode 36. […]

  • http://innovationeye.wordpress.com Deirdre Molloy

    Nice rebuttal Mike; the slant you’re referring to on the whole London / UK 2.0 thing sounds like a slender perspective.

    From attending over 200 of such events, conferences, unconferences and meet-ups over 2004-2008 (most of which were excellent BTW and a great opportunity to meet some of the smartest people in web culture the world – never mind Europe – has to offer, along with some less so) and organising a bunch myself, I’d say 2006 was the peak in the UK’s Web 2.0 hype cycle.

    In 2007 the cracks started to show, as the immediately-felt shortcomings any truly clued-up person immersed in this environment would pick up on started to become more frequent, less exceptional. Then we had 2008… But as the old saying goes; we overestimate the short-term effect, and under-estimate the long term impact. The hype cycle, after all, is predicting something…

    The fact that in spite of this many UK-based start ups actually have still found some kind of business model success shows the wealth of talent that the UK has (and our near neighbours in Europe). Off the top of my head I’d add Zopa and Skinkers to your list . Remember they were on the panel with you way back in Jan 07 when you chaired Chinwag’s Wobble 2.0 event? (aka when Web 2.0 meets Bubble 2.0) http://live.chinwag.com/wobble2 :-)

    The added dimension to all this is the fact that London’s innovative digital community is also very healthily dispersed across all walks of working life: big brands, public sector / education, non-profit/charities, old-tech (Goog, Msft, Y!, Voda, Nokia, HP, etc), digital agencies, old media, and other businesses and smaller companies. The fact that so many of these people participate in the “scene” (or rather the inter-connected networks) is hugely beneficial for all concerned. And the traffic and connections between all these types of organisations (including start-ups) is significant. We could talk Champagne, and I’m all for it; but most events and their resulting outputs are less flashy, more serious.

    Not only do all these intrapreneurs, spare time innovators, etc, make their own un-controversial choices about whether they should or should not pursue other parallel passions and/or careers, and support their families / pay the bills etc; they are also circulating the ideas, approaches and tools you talk about as particular to start-ups in their own organisations and networks.

    Their motivation and existence means that the innovation and tools are seeping into other enterprises, and benefitting those places already, or at least being tested out and sewing the seeds of learning and progress. Whereas a sealed “start-up scene” does not – or would not if it actually existed – have that impact.

    That’s why more integrated cities, countries and regions continue to bring the noise: it’s not just a halo effect. Rather we’re all in it together, if only by matters of closer degrees, and experimentation happens on a broader scale that actually makes a difference. It’s not only tech start-ups that have to keep adapting after all. So let Paul get on with whatever he’s doing this season. The parish pump (and the winnebago) just ain’t the answer to the problems and opportunities we’re confronting.

    bests, as always :)

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      Thanks Deidre, you remind us well of the mashup that is London. Wobble 2.0 was in 2007? My how time flies!

  • http://www.nmk.co.uk Ian Delaney

    What she said.

    More seriously, as you know, NMK has spent the last year running events examining what many perceive as Old Media is doing to catch up. This has involved the worlds of newspapers, magazines, radio, PR and television.

    *In every case* the story has been the same. There’s a very frank acknowledgement. The old methods aren’t working. We know. So we’re trying this, this and this.

    I took enormous encouragement from that. Our media industries are innovating, taking on new partners and seeking solutions. That process probably seems frustratingly limited and slow to people in the startup space, but doesn’t bely the fact that it is happening.

    Last week’s NMA – as you’ll have seen – was basically on the theme of post-digital. That digital had now entered the mainstream and so didn’t need a separate category any more. I don’t think that’s entirely true, but there can’t be many advertising and marketing firms left without a digital division or more mainstream inculcation of digital solutions.

    That leaves London ahead of the game, IMHO. It may not be such a great place for startups in some respects, but digital talent is becoming saleable in ways we would not have imagined two or three years ago.

    The A-list also becomes somewhat redundant in this scenario, of course.

    • http://uk.techcrunch.com Mike Butcher

      A-list of what?

      • http://www.nmk.co.uk Ian Delaney

        Of Travelling Patronisers – referring back to post-digital and Paul’s column. Sorry, Scoble &co – we get it. Bye bye.

  • http://geetarchurchy.wordpress.com Matt Churchill

    Agree wholeheartedly – how can a media outlet as hefty as the Guardian treat their writers so badly and expect them to get on with it? Because of the decline in offline writing opportunities i’d suspect – which doesn’t make it right or at all fair by the way.

    In a recession you keep your best assets and treat them well, which has sadly not happened here.

    Paul Carr’s column was/is great and will of course pop up elsewhere, and soon i’d hope.

  • http://www.collaboratemarketing.com James Cherkoff

    I just think it’s incredible how quickly the whole bloggy/social/2.0 world has gone mainstream. Many of the events you refer to here were all about preparing for the, “change-a-comin”. And it somehow all seemed a long way off. Well today HM Treasury is on Twitter! (http://bit.ly/3qMfzn). Personally, I hope no one takes Paul Carrr up his challenge, “to successful London 2.0”. It was only ever a tag and the potential changes go way beyond. Furthemore, London doesn’t need to justify itself as an exciting, innovative, entrepreneurial city. So it should stop doffing its cap towards Slicon Valley – and just get on with it.

  • http://trailkev.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/links-for-2009-07-14/ links for 2009-07-14 « A little Jack with that?

    […] I’m calling a ‘time of death’ for London’s media industry. Episode 36. >> TechCrunch E… […]

  • http://beckymcmichael.com/2009/07/14/links-for-2009-07-14/ links for 2009-07-14 « Becky McMichael’s PR Balancing Act

    […] I’m calling a ‘time of death’ for London’s media industry. Episode 36. (tags: media new old paulcarr economy) Filed under: links   |  Leave a Comment […]

  • http://press.skimlinks.com/2009/07/14/i%e2%80%99m-calling-a-%e2%80%98time-of-death%e2%80%99-for-london%e2%80%99s-media-industry/ I’m calling a ‘time of death’ for London’s media industry | press

    […] Mike Butcher   |   July 13th, 2009   |   view article […]

  • helen bryant

    Skimlinks demo
    http://www.kyte.tv/ch/6118/499819

    What isn’t addressed by Mike or Scoble’s demo above is whether content monetised with disguised affiliate links is editorial. If editors are adding links to ‘editorial’ that the publisher derives a financial gain from then does that content become an advert that entices the reader to buy? The legal defintion of advertising is an enticement, nothing to do wth advertisers buying space, controlling what appears etc. The distinction is important since it’s a legal one between marketing communication and editorial which informs with no commercial influence. If editorial has to include some commercial links to make any money how is it impartial? Stepping over the line is a criminal offence, the penalty is up to two years in prison.

    If Cosmo editors add links to what readers think is editorial as is claimed by Navarro I don’t see that there is any editorial on this demo page, all the content is monetised.

    http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/fashion-&-style/fashion-shopping-holiday-wardrobe-straw-hat/gallery

    I think Scoble is right to call it content once you monetise it with commercial links, not editorial.

  • http://nickpoint.co.uk/2009/07/15/im-calling-a-time-of-opportunity-for-londonuk-internet-startup-industry/ I’m calling a ‘time of opportunity’ for London/UK internet startup industry « Nickpoint

    […] The investment funds sloshing around The Valley are huge compared to UK/European funds. The VC’s and Angel’s in the UK/Europe also tend to be much more risk adverse. Although these factors are changing  in the US with the credit bubble bursting. The UK’s limitations doesn’t mean we can’t produce a wonderful Olympics or make world class profitable web apps, we can. Huddle is a great example. Their ranked as one of the globe’s top 50 startups. Bebo is an excellent example of a very healthy trade sale. Sage a global leader was once a UK startup. The list of great UK startup goes on. Mike Butcher of Techcrunch Europe did a splendid job of correcting Paul on London’s startup profitability. […]

  • http://www.savvysponds.co.uk Jules

    A wonderful list of innovative start-ups that are doing very well. I am especially fascinated by Moshi Monsters. I will definitely be reading more about it.

  • http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/07/17/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

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    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

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    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://blog.viningmedia.nl/2009/07/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can | Viningmedia Nieuws

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://cellphoneultra.com/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can | Cellphone Ultra

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Net scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://www.neurosoftware.ro/programming-blog/blogposter/web-resources/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can - Programming Blog

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://www.thescriptszone.com/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can | The Scripts Zone

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://taser.freei.me/wordpress/?p=535 UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can | TopBlogs

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

  • http://www.theitchronicle.com/2009/07/18/uk-entrepreneurs-get-your-funding-while-you-still-can/ UK Entrepreneurs: Get Your Funding While You Still Can | The IT Chronicle

    […] It’s that kind of bleak desperation that lead the infamous Paul Carr to pronounce the UK Internet scene dead….just before his own column in the Guardian became its own victim of the economy a few days later. (See Mr. Butcher’s TechCrunchEurope rebuttal here.) […]

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