Sunday, 9 September 2012

A Manifesto for the Content Industry 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”)

Amongst the terms you encounter on the web from the more vociferous supporters of copyright (and intellectual property in general) is “Freetard”, a term used as an insult against anyone who downloads content without paying for it. As well as being a fairly offensive term in its use of the word “retard” it’s also indicative of a mind-set that tries to frame the debate as a moral rather than business-model one. You can also frequently find it used by those who argue that “creators” and “consumers” are two distinct camps.
But the main argument you get from the freetard-motif-users is that people won’t pay if there’s a free alternative.

As I covered back in section 4, this is demonstrably false. If you provide an easy-to-use, 1-stop-shop with an end product that has no degradations compared to the illegal alternative, then customers are willing to pay. This is especially true if you can demonstrate that they’re effectively supporting the artist directly*.

What has changed significantly for the big content industries is the access to the content. In the good / bad** old days the major labels / studios / publishers effectively controlled not just what was made, but what was sold. One size would fit all because there was only one size available and customers could like it or lump it.
If you wanted to see a movie you went to the cinema and watched what was showing. Similarly the radio stations would (to a large extent) play what payola or paid taste-makers suggested.

But (repeat after me) these gates restricting access to content are gone. More people are creating, marketing and distributing content than ever before. One size no longer fits all because I can find more sizes just a mouse-click away. An interesting article interviewing the CEO of a label now distributed by Universal Music Group []  indicates that they’re beginning to realise this***, they’re target product is the “hit” and their target audience is (to be crude) the Justin Bieber fan. They’re a big player so they can aim mass-market. If they’re smart they will adopt a different strategy for their sub-labels that target different niches.

Hollywood does blockbusters very well, those looking for more cerebral fare will frequently turn to UK, French or Indy producers, again, different strategies are needed for the different products and audiences.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the largest of the legacy industries are trying to avoid having to adapt by legislating the gates back into place. It won’t work, but it slows down the progress of our technology and capabilities of a lot of the smaller creators whilst they try.
Some people seem to be stuck with the idea that biggest is best and that best of all is being able to control & monetise every use of their content. Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily result in what might actually produce the most profit.

Sometimes coincidence works in your favour. Just as I was about to start writing this section of the manifesto I came across the following quote from Bill Cosby, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody“.

* or that there’s a charitable aspect to their support.
** delete as appropriate
*** but interestingly it’s taken a small label to introduce this concept and it’s still not UMG’s standard operating model.

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