The Death Of Scarcity

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Editors used to control the journalists and decided which words made it to which pages. Music companies used to control the musicians and decided which albums made it into the record stores. TV stations used to control the actors and decided who got to star in which programs. 

From luxury items to concert tickets, everything we’ve really known (and been successful with) in the Marketing industry was (to some extent) based on the scarcity model. Whether it was 20% more or 40% off, it was always for a "limited time". So, here’s another shift that we don’t talk about enough: the new media channels are not about scarcity, they are about abundance. It’s not about deciding who gets access to who, it’s about everybody having access to everybody.

Can we truly understand value without the scarcity?

Whether we’re talking about comic books or an old bottle wine, we tend to place a higher value on the things that we can only have less of. Don’t believe me? Look at the environment. Pushing this idea out further, notice how the most modern of new media mavens get all excited when they are featured on national television or score a book deal. The reality is that everyone has a Blog or Twitter account (just like them), but if they can get their content into a place that others cannot, then it’s that much more exciting.

Those calling for the death of traditional mass media, don’t really understand what is going to happen.

We (as a collective society) know no other way. If you take away the scarcity, we truly have no idea how to value it. In fact, I’d argue that we don’t value it. Personal anecdote: I await – with bated breath – the latest issue of Wired Magazine but have no issue deleting 180 news items from the Wired Blog as "mark as read". Why? Simply put, the magazine comes out only once a month, it is scarce when compared to the twenty-four hour onslaught of digital content through my RSS reader. Once someone curates and edits the content in print versus simply filling the digital void, the value of the content in the magazine "seems" scarcer than a model where the funnel needs to constantly be filled.

How are Marketers really going to Market and connect with consumers if what they’re Marketing is no longer scarce (or perceived that way) or if the channels in which they’re Marketing are no longer perceived as valuable because anybody and everybody can publish?


  1. Scarcity is still with us but taking different forms. Our time is now scarce. So is our attention. And so is money, for most of us.
    We need help finding what matters. We can curate by ourselves using tools like Google Alerts or get help from others through tools like Twitter or publications like Wired. I’ve yet to finish the old issue 🙁
    What about our value? We are scarce too. We can specialize more and still find an audience because more choice makes people more selective. There is less tolerance for the mediocre. We want the noteworthy.
    Marketers can still create scarcity by limiting quantities. This can take the form of limited editions or (in the case of TEDxTO), limited seats. There can be time-based specials too. For example, Windows 7 is on pre-sale for 50% off for a few days at Staples.
    More voices can now be heard. That makes the world better. Marketing will survive and so will we. We need more help sifting through the noise.

  2. Promod nailed it on the head with his comment as all I could do now is ‘nod’ my head in agreement – Marketing will definitely survive and so will the scarcity model. Printed word will still exist as the radio still does and so will the TV.
    It also comes down to design, image, and the quality of the noise filter that the publication can provide. Take RobbReport for example, there are numerous sources available on the web that help you choose the right caviar or the latest Bentley but the audience simply don’t have the time to filter. RobbReport wins and so does traditional media in this case as they met a need.
    Answer to the dilemma for many publications = be a great noise filter for people that don’t have time for filtering (Digg in Print, maybe?)
    Alex “filter” Ikonn

  3. While I agree that people tend to value what is scarce, exclusive, or what they can’t have, I’d argue that this is one of the lower human emotions or motivations; based on jealousy or covetousness.
    Scarcity and value can be directly linked, but it is not a requirement.
    Air is ubiquitous, free, but has great value. Likewise water – but that is changing quite rapidly eh?
    Collector edition bobble-head dolls only have value, and only to a limited audience, because they are intentionally scarce.
    On the other hand some scarce things have value because they have been created through unique talent or through great labour or expense. Think the Mona Lisa or a Lasic eye laser for examples.
    I believe the type of scarcity mentioned here are those things that have a broad enough value to be monetized. Yes, there is something about everything available free somewhere. But better writing (a scarce talent), more meaningful insight, or even clever aggregation of information of direct and specific interest, offer value. The discussion of delivery methods distracts from the central discussion.
    I’d argue that collective society knows many other ways of determining value other than scarcity. Talent. Meaning. Function. Craftsmanship.
    For example Mitch, your thoughts are provided here free, but have value nonetheless.

  4. What we’re really talking about here is the ILLUSION of scarcity; that scarcity that has been artificially manufactured by marketing. No doubt there will still be plenty of that.
    The most important real scarcity is time. Those who provide what saves us time will be the most successful now.
    For those whose value system does not have money at the very top the world could now evolve into a better place for all instead of a funnel transferring money and other valuables to those who already have the most.

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