Saturday, 18 August 2012

A Manifesto for the Content Industry 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.

Let’s go back to the difference between middlemen and gatekeepers: What are you bringing to the table? If you’re adding something to the mix (distribution, promotion, technical expertise, access to fans / artists etc. etc.) then you’re a middleman. If all you’re doing is charging people to get to the table then you’re a gatekeeper and, let’s not beat around the bush, you’re doomed.

Before the advent of recorded media things were pretty simple. If you wanted to listen to some music you either played it yourself, went somewhere where someone would be playing it or (for the very rich) paid for someone to come to you and play it.
There were no movies of course, but the theatre was there and off you went.
The gatekeepers were just that, the men on the gate and, in some cases, the booking agents, but they were relatively few and far between. The middlemen were the tavern landlords, the ticket sellers and the folks who stuck up the bills.

With the advent of recorded media the game changed. Suddenly the option of bringing the entertainment to you existed for everyone, not just the very rich. But producing, distributing and advertising this content was expensive, very expensive. It also took a long time and required a lot of very specialist resource.
This meant there quickly became a clear divide between the amateurs and the industry-backed professionals, a divide that led to a massively successful set of industries for about 50-odd years and an ever expanding set of restrictions on what could be done with the output of these industries.

Towards the end of the last century, along with the rise of the personal electronics and the increasing availability of home computing, three things happened that started an inexorable change for these industries:
1) cheaper hardware and software brought media creation capability to the masses. Prices have continued to fall and quality has continued to rise to levels unimagined just twenty years previously. £1000 will buy you a brand new computer, the recording software, a solid-top acoustic guitar and a condenser microphone. With that you could record music that will surpass a lot of the stuff from some of the professional studios of the seventies and 80s.
2) The internet arrived and then, critically, morphed into web2.0, shifting from being yet-another-mass-media-distribution- channel to being a true many-to-many distribution mechanism for User Generated Content (UGC). In the music world sites like myspace (RIP), cdbaby, last FM, bandcamp, soundcloud, thesixtyone and many others sprang up to help artists distribute and advertise their work directly to fans. Amazon, Lulu and others are providing the same service for authors and crowd-funding tools like Kickstarter are offering aspiring film-makers and game designers (see 3) the chance to make this shift as well.
3) Computer games and consoles made the shift from the arcade and nerdiness to the front room and mainstream acceptance. In a world where digital content is effectively infinitely abundant, disposable income is still depressingly finite. The music, movie and publishing industries have been forced to adapt to a new competitor for these entertainment dollars and, in general, it’s a competitor that is born of the digital revolution and is reacting to the changing world more quickly and more profitably.

Content will always be produced, fans will always exist but the gates are going or, in some places, have gone entirely. There will always be a place for those who can add value to the connection between fan and creator, but if your business model exists solely to stand at the gate demanding admission then your ex-customer will just walk over the ruins of the walls around you.
Or, to go back to the original metaphor, the gravy train has stopped at the buffers, the passengers and artists have disembarked and are mingling on the platforms planning new journeys on new trains, cars, planes, bicycles and everything else under the sun. How long are you going to sit in the carriage waiting for them to come back?

No comments:

Post a Comment