This is probably going to be the last time they allow me to write for Medialoper, but I can’t conceal the truth any longer: I can’t work the iTunes store. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I just can’t get iTunes to work for me. It turns out that I’m a niche girl in a broadband world.
As online services strive ever-harder to be everything to everyone, I find myself retreating into my comfortable spaces. It’s not that I don’t enjoy finding new stuff — serendipity is still my favorite way to navigate the web — but when it comes to consuming media, I like to take a boutique approach to shopping.
I’m not alone in this. Chris Anderson, who will likely forever have to deal with issues surrounding his Long Tail and, well, I hear he’s addressing the crowd from Novelists’ Inc, and, oh, Chris, there is much I should warn you about), is talking again about the power of the niche. I cannot begin to tell you how much I believe that we are entering the Age of the Niche.
Okay, fine, Anderson is really discussing the idea that a one-size aggregator doesn’t fit all. Turn it around, and he’s talking niches. The truth of the matter is that, for me, there is simply too much about iTunes to handle. I don’t even know how to begin working with the iTunes store. I have no idea where to start, where to look, how to seek. The way the place is organized baffles me. It doesn’t connect with my brain.
Part of this is because the iTunes store is like a giant retailer. In real life, I’d equate it with Fry’s. True story: if the gods are angry and I’m required to go to Fry’s, a whole list of rules are laid down. I am not allowed to wander away from my husband, certainly not allowed to “go look at something”. There are times when I am required to maintain physical contact with him for fear that I will never emerge from the store. At least during this century (as I successfully made it through the last). I reach a state of sensory overload that would be scary if I were experiencing it now.
Actually, my heart is racing a bit at thought of Fry’s. It scares me that much. Maybe if I could just stand quietly by the multi-colored cable tie thingies, it would be okay. But, no, we have to look at things like battery back-ups and storage and, I kid you not, routers.
Fry’s is simply too much store for a person like me. iTunes is simply too much store for a person like me. I need the small, personal touch of other services. I’m pretty comfortable at eMusic. I’m really happy when people I trust point me in the direction of things that will fascinate me. I get information about interesting books from blogs and lists; I tried the whole Amazon recommendations thing, but, wow, they think they know me, but they really don’t. Despite what my recommendations tell you, I’m simply not that kind of girl.
Getting back to my Amazon example, I don’t see the real conversation happening there. I don’t necessarily trust the people who rate the products, who discuss the products. Sure, you can see those instances where real people are moved to talk about something they love, but, just as often, the reviews feel like friends of the artist. There isn’t a real sense of passion, of community, when it comes to Amazon. Now don’t get me wrong, I give a good portion of my annual income to Amazon. I simply don’t shop there. I buy.
There’s a difference.
I prefer the community I get from my other sources. It’s smaller and feels more honest. Or maybe it’s less self-conscious. Or maybe it’s just that when it comes to a smaller group discussing a topic that makes them feel passionate, there’s a sense that real people are putting themselves out there. Amazon is too much of a sales tool, too big, to inspire that sort of small community feel. It’s not a flaw, it’s just how it is.
Whether it be the classical music noted in Anderson’s example or a review site devoted to romance novels or intense focus on samurai film, small aggregators of specific content will be the guides to the new media future. They might point me to the bigger outlets or they might encourage me to buy from them directly. Advertisers, I think, will see the advantage of focusing their pitches on smaller, devoted audiences rather than taking a scattershot approach to finding eyeballs. The small aggregators, the niche aggregators, will work on many levels.
But best of all, they will not replace nor usurp the big players. There will be a lovely symbiotic relationship that emerges — we’ve seen it moving in that direction for a long time. In real life, there is always a need for a Fry’s just as there’s a need for the more pared-down approach of Radio Shack.
I think that the Age of the Niche is going to be the top news story in about two years. Right now, we’re talking about all the services that are racing online, as fast as they can. Every media company in the world is trying to be everything they can be to everyone they can meet. They all want to be the Fry’s of the digital media world.
In the meantime, we, the lovers of the things we love, will be seeking out trusted sources to tell us about what we care about most. We’ll let those trusted sources introduce us to new and different things, but we’ll also take comfort in the niches we’ve grown to love. As much as I love my iPod and the democratization (okay, baby steps toward democratization) that iTunes offers, I still don’t see it working for me.