Music Distribution Problems and Filmmakers Solutions

3 01 2008

Reuters reports, in today’s news, that:

Sales of physical and digital albums tumbled to 500.5 million units, as the music industry was pillaged by piracy and competition from other forms of entertainment like videogames, industry experts said.

Record industry hype aside, where does that leave us, as content providers for the future?

Well, for one, I’ve been saying for years that the record industry should get out of the business of selling pieces of plastic with music on them. I’ve been saying, in fact, that they should get out of the production of music altogether. What they’re good at, when they have the product in hand, is the global marketing of the stuff.

Frankly, if I were a music producer, I’d rather give my music to someone who cares and who has global reach, than someone who cares and can distribute music in my home town only. Record companies need to get into concert promotion (or, to use the Madonna model, concert promoters need to get into record distribution), and renting out their marketing and distribution web of contacts to those who don’t have them. There are those who would say that digital downloads make a centralized distributor unnecessary. I disagree. When, in fact, was the last time you stumbled onto more than two bands who you liked well enough to buy some product from? Unless you’re talking about a local band, that you discover in a bar somewhere, my bet is that that hasn’t happened very much to you. The noise is just too much. It’s hard to raise any individual band/singer’s profile above all of the others.

And that’s where a global distributor can make a difference.

So, what does that mean for those of us in the visual content sphere? If we move further and further away from a movie theatre world, and into an Apple-TV, video download, world, will we start to come face-to-face with the same issues? Will movie companies become the atrophied appendix of the film body? (Hmmm, really tortured metaphor there. Sorry about that.)

My feeling is that, yes, they will. Someone will still need to pay exorbitant sums to put Johnny Depp in front of audiences in a pirate outfit (since they seem to want that, as opposed to the amazing DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY which, ironically, Depp was originally going to star in). Even with cheaper CGI and distribution, it will still cost too much money to hire people to do those things. But, once we move out of the top tier of films and start adopting a more Internet friendly distribution mode (see my post on this), it’s going to be harder for good indie filmmakers to rise above the chaff of both bigger movies and lousider indie films.

Enter rent-a-distributor. Last century, we called it “four-walling” when filmmakers rented out a movie theatre to show their movies. In this case, it would be renting a distributor (which, I’ve heard, is what some indie distributors amount to nowadays anyway). But it seems to me that this is, in fact, where the film studios major experience sets them apart from every other person in the film chain. They know that and most filmmakers don’t have a clue.

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