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

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.