It’s quite a juxtaposition of realities. On the one hand, Facebook is under the same relentless downward pressure as other Web-based media. The company’s revenue amounts to a pitiful $5 per customer per year, which puts it ahead of the Huffington Post but somewhat behind the New York Times’ digital business. (Here’s the heartbreaking truth about the difference between new media and old: even in the New York Times’ declining traditional business, a subscriber is still worth more than $1,000 a year.) Facebook’s business grows only on the unsustainable basis that it can add new customers at a faster rate than the price of advertising declines. It is peddling as fast as it can. And the present scenario gets much worse as people increasingly interact with the social service on mobile devices, because on a small screen it is vastly harder to sell ads and monetize users.
On the other hand, Facebook is, everyone has come to agree, profoundly different from the Web…. Facebook has the scale, the platform, and the brand to be the new Google. It lacks only the big idea. Right now, it doesn’t actually know how to embed its usefulness into world commerce (or even, really, what its usefulness is).
So the social network is left in the same position as all other media companies. Instead of being inevitable and unavoidable, it has to sell its audience like every humper on Madison Avenue.