Traders and originators
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #64

The information business bifurcates - between content that is valuable for its consistency, and that which is valued for diversity. The nature of trade, and the position of traders, will differ greatly in these two separate forms of knowledge business. In one, the role of traders will diminish and perhaps fade away altogether; in the other, traders will be of paramount importance, but they will only slightly resemble the traders of today.

With consistent content, the value is not in the knowledge imparted - as the innate value of knowledge rapidly approaches zero - but in the consistency itself. This consistency implies a long-term relationship between the originator of content and clients, developed over time. The value to a client is the reliability - to some degree the predictability - of a continuous stream of information.

The crucial role in this relationship is played by the provider of content. Due to the requirement of consistency, the provider will also be the originator of content. But this is not quite trade, as originators are not traders. Trade, by and large, relies on the goods traded having inherent value, which information, as such, does not. This is especially true in the business of consistent content, where relationships are valued more than the goods and services provided. It is quite hard to trade in relationships.

The importance of originality, the dominance of the creator over the creation, and the limited value of information out of the context provided by a continuing relationship with the originator, diminish the value of trade. In a business where the law of increasing returns operates - over time if not necessarily over quantity of production - traders who would complete a transaction in an instant will find no place.

The relatively uncommon, present-day precursors of the future workers in the business of consistent content are artists and composers whose individual (and occasionally collective or corporate) skills are valued more than any single accomplishment. They do rely on publishers - because costs of distribution are high, for the moment. They also rely in those traders in relationships, the artistic agents (although some of the most successful performers were discovered by publishers directly). But again, when costs of distribution are low enough for creators to do without publishers, they will not need agents either.

Other producers of consistent content do without intermediaries of any sort. A management consultancy such as McKinsey hardly needs an agent; high value newsletters and analysis services are their own publishers. Till they attain a certain stature they may need some marketing to find the clients with whom they hope to build relationships, but their reliance on third parties for this is minimal and fast disappearing.

So, whether in the field of expression or in providing tailored advice, the originator, who creates knowledge, eliminates the trader, who locates and distributes it. But while distribution of bits may no longer have much value in an age of cheap data transportation, location of information will. An insignificant value, when dealing with the long-term relationships of consistent content; but far from it in the parallel but separate business of content with diversity. There, traders will thrive - not unchanged from their present form, but reborn for a new medium.

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