Social media networks will become ever more addictive, and by using AI to increase the click-through rate on the ads, they will squeeze ever more money out of their addicts. AI will be essential to the "capture and sale of attention," as Tim Wu puts it, walking users from curiosity to the cash register more and more efficiently.
Lewis is right to focus on addiction. Especially because behavioral addictions are easier to ignore than addictions to substances slung on street corners. But they amount to the same thing: you want something, but you don't want to want it, and being unable to resist it, you sabotage your own life. Addictions turn our brains against us.
In a prescient 2010 essay, PG warned of the acceleration of online addictions, and the lag between the introduction of an addictive product and society's response to it.
Capitalism is an accelerant for addictive behavior, and we are only just realizing how unhappy people become as a result of the marketplace’s newest and most insidious products. What's worse, the necessary functions performed by our phones and the Internet are fatefully tangled with the apps that addict us. They put the heroin next to the tap water.
For anyone interested in a fictional account of American society as a tapestry of addictions, Infinite Jest will change the way you think. It's all about that buzz.
Full disclosure: I prompted Paul Lewis to write this piece.
The "penny press" -- starting in the 1830s -- offered low-cost newspapers, basically at a loss, which were then subsidized with advertising. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_press) A similar business model was then used for most newspapers, radio, network television stations, national magazines, cable news/TV subscriptions and on, and on. At each stage, the level of demographic and geographic targeting became more sophisticated. The modern web-based media is basically the logical conclusion of this two-century evolution.
What's more, profitable subscriptions for media are at an all-time high. The issue is that the spoils go to only a few winners, like Amazon, Netflix, SirusXM, Spotify, Comcast/TimeWarner, etc. A real issue is that people are more willing to pay subscriptions for music & entertainment than for news & analysis. But that's changing.
NYTimes, WaPo, WSJ have large-scale digital subscriber programs, and mid-market publishers are following suit. But, it's never going to have as much scale as ad/attention-based monetization.
I tend to agree with the sentiment embedded in your statement -- that if media are subscriber-based, they tend to be better aligned with those readers. But people are definitely accustomed to free on the web.
I recommend you check out "The Attention Merchants" to learn a bit about how news and information has been paid for over time. You shouldn't blame measurement; you should, if anything, blame the media industry's unit economics: http://amzn.to/2osFiNz
Fresh book recommendations delivered straight to your inbox every Thursday.