In the online world, much is made of reducing barriers to entry. Democratization of media removes barriers for people like you and me to be able to blog, podcast, video, etc. and share it with the world without requiring the sponsorship of a major corporation’s media channel. This is largely a good thing, but not always.
Sometimes, barriers to entry are supposed to exist. Sometimes, barriers to entry serve a practical and useful purpose. For example, the legal and medical professions have significant and serious barriers to entry in order to be called a lawyer or doctor. This serves to ensure that people who have no business practicing law or medicine without any training can’t simply walk around calling themselves lawyers or doctors without consequences.
In the martial arts, becoming a black belt requires significant time and investment, and doing so protects not only the public from frauds, but also protects the practitioner from believing they are more or less capable than they actually are. (in theory)
Sometimes barriers to entry exist to protect common resources. For example, you can’t set up a logging shop anywhere there are trees just because you want more wood for your business. We set up barriers to entry for common areas like parks so that you can’t do business there at all, or there are significant hurdles to cross, so that a common resource is not depleted. (see the tragedy of the commons)
Here’s something to think about in social media and new media. We’ve democratized so much that you don’t even need to be human to be an active participant in it. Look at any Twitter bot account for proof. That said, our resources these days are still fixed: 24 hours in a day, and full attention given to one thing at a time. If barriers to entry can serve to protect common, limited resources, then what barriers to entry should we consider for the digital landscape?
If you’re looking for stuff of a higher caliber to invest that time and attention to, ask yourself this: what are the barriers to entry for it? Sometimes, it’s price. There’s free content and then there’s not-free content. The price not only delivers profit to the producer, but also sets a significant barrier to entry to deter the casual user. Sometimes it’s invitation-only. If you’re looking for specific feedback (ToeJam 1.0 is in closed beta!), you’ll set up a barrier to entry to keep out feedback from people that might not be your target audience.
As the social landscape evolves, what other barriers to entry do you think need to exist? Which ones need to come down, if any? Which ones will you plan to use?
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I’ve always considered barriers of entry to be a challenge, rather than a problem. Honestly, I have more faith in my ability to do something if I’ve passed the sort of standard barriers. I know it sounds a bit strange but I had a lot more faith in my own abilities as a writer on my own after I proved that I could land a job as a writer. I certainly didn’t want that job — I made more working on my own, but passing that barrier made it easier for me trust my own skills more.
Many barriers to entry do raise costs but achieve socially desirable ends. Unionization or licensing requirements for jobs like cosmetologist may be uneconomic in some sense but they also enabled relatively unskilled people to join the middle class, rather than be at the mercy of supply and demand curves that favored capital (hirers) over labor (hirees).
Many new digital businesses are meant to “disrupt” existing arrangements, lowering costs for customers, but sometimes also lowering wages for existing jobs, from writers to cab drivers.