Sunday, 3 July 2011

A manifesto for the content industry

Following on from my previous blog about the gender discrepancy between the charts and the amateur scene I’ve been doing some further thinking about how the music industry, and the wider content industry / rights holders* might want to behave if they are to survive (and even prosper) in the post-digital economy.

So, the manner of the Cluetrain Manifesto, I have produced a Manifesto for the Content Industry.

Now, before we get onto the manifesto, I want to head something off at the pass. This is not about whether it is right or wrong to copy and distribute files via the internet. This is not a moral debate. File sharing happens and, in one form or another, will always happen. This is a suggestion for how companies can accept this economic reality and still remain a viable business.

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, here are my founding principles for a modern content provider. They’re in no order apart from number 1 and I'll expand on them in turn in future blogs:

1              Do not sue your customers. Seriously, just don’t. It’s the economic equivalent of going to war. If, in the words of one CEO, you say “We’re going to sue the fuck out of generation Y”, exactly how many of generation Z do you expect to buy your products? If someone is taking content you have the rights to and selling it on commercially, sure, take ‘em to the cleaners**. But blocking up the legal system with 25,000 individual cases of people downloading The Hurt Locker is not only targeting a bunch of people who have no impact on your business model, it’s also an abuse of the legal process.
2              One shared file does not equal one sale lost. It really doesn’t. People will accept something for free that they won’t be prepared to pay for, don’t kid yourself otherwise. A shared file is equally likely to lead to more sales rather than fewer.
3              Content will always be produced and consumed with or without you. You are just a facilitator. If your entire industry disappeared overnight, people will still create and they will find other ways to share and appreciate it. Never lose sight of this.
4              You can compete with free. Seriously, there are plenty of working business models out there, study them. You are better placed than anyone to make this work, failure to do so is not about not being able to compete with free, it’s a failure of your business acumen.
5              Add value. What are you doing that your customers can’t do with 20 minutes and the internet? What are you doing that a creator can’t do for themselves? If you’re not adding value, why would someone pay you?
6              Focus on quality. A corollary to adding value; you cannot compete on quantity, it’s you vs the world, you have to be better than good.
7              Be brave. If you’re focussing on sequels, glorified karaoke acts, this year’s answer to “X” or trying to build a brand then you are guaranteed to miss the next trend when it comes along.
8              Use your experience. There’s a lot of noise out there, but there’s also a huge amount of good stuff, your job is to find the great stuff. For example, if you’re a newspaper then do the investigative journalism, get into the detail and find the facts behind the story. I can get opinion and newsfeeds faster than you can go to print, get me the truth and I will buy your paper.
9              Be genuine. We’re sick of spin, we’re sick of hype. If you churn out repetitive and unoriginal content whilst claiming it’s the best thing since last year’s clone, we’ll stop listening and go elsewhere (a lot of people already have).
10            Free your people. If you’re doing the other stuff right your people should have some pretty interesting jobs. I bet they’ve got interesting stuff to say. Do they blog? We do. Do they comment in chatrooms? We do. Let them join the conversation, it should be part of their job.
11            This is a global market. If you charge western prices to the third world then people will find a way to get the content for free. 99c might not be a lot to readers of this blog but it’s a day’s wage to large amounts of the globe. But the bad news is that you can’t stop a European going to an African website and buying from there, your unit cost is zero, expect your prices to trend that way.
12            The gravy train has stopped, it’s time to get off. You are no longer the gatekeepers to content and you no longer have a monopoly. Lobby if you like (and we know you do) but you’d be better off coming to terms with it and adapting.
13            The customers are out there. A corollary to 8; the argument that people are unwilling to pay for content has been proven false by the success of I-tunes, Spotify, The Financial Times and numerous others. You have to figure out who you’re trying to serve and what their needs are (Hint, the answers aren’t “everybody” and “everything”)
14            Do not sue your customers. I know this is the same as 1 but it’s so important I thought I’d say it twice.***

So there you go, that’s my stab at a set of principles for a 21st century content provider. What do you think?

* Please note, I am using the term “Content Industry” as a catch all to cover the major players in the Intellectual Property market (Studios, Record Labels, Publishers, Newspapers, Software houses) rather than the actual creators of that content (Artists, film-makers, authors etc) as the behaviours and ambitions are generally very different.
** Take legal action against your competitors if you must, but be aware of the Streisand affect. You can lose as much business being in the right as you can being in the wrong.
*** With reference to Red Dwarf

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