The Democratization – and Danger – of Content

23 03 2008

Easter eggs.  Courtesy danzfamily.comTalk about confluence. On Friday night, I had a conversation with a music producer/engineer about lowering the entry price for musicians and filmmakers. It’s what is fashionably called the “democratization of media.” Just Google that phrase. I did and got 875 hits without even looking for alternative spellings or phrasings.

Let’s couple that with another, though less momentous, fact. When I look at the tags for this blog’s postings, aside from the obvious tag of “Editing,” the largest number of entries fit under the tags “Business,” “The Future” and “Distribution.”

This points to the obvious conclusion that, at least in my mind, the future is going to be less about the creation of media but about its selling and distribution. I’ve said for years (including right here on this blog) that the majors are getting increasingly inept at creating media on their own. Big, bloated record albums that used to be shoved down our throats are now attracting 10% of the audience than they did ten years ago. At the same time, it’s possible for your average music fan to record a song for under $100 (the cost of labor being free in these cases). But you try and find something you like on MySpace. You might as well go trolling at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

In movies and television, that trend is just beginning. Movie studios will still turn out their $150 million dollar tent pole films, and people will still go to see it. But attendance is going to start taking a hit — especially now that it costs more for a family of four to see a film than it does to stay home and order in really good Chinese food and watch something on television or a Netflix film.

But go try and find something on YouTube. Try and sift through that hulking mass of short films to find anything worth viewing for fun (I do enjoy finding tutorials — Avid, Final Cut, other Pro Apps, et al, but I don’t think that those short films are ever going to become mass audience pleasers).

So where does that leave us?

That leaves us with the reality that, as it gets easier to create content, it gets much much harder to distribute it successfully. The key to that sentence is the final word – “successfully.” It will be very easy to get our products out there into the world. But attracting eyeballs is going to be another thing entirely. If you take a look at the crowded marketplace for books, music and studio films right now, you can see the danger of putting too many Easter eggs into too few baskets (and now, finally, you understand the graphic at the top of this post). It gets much harder to find just the right colored egg when it’s buried under 500,000 other eggs.What we’re going to see happen here is exactly what is happening in theatrical film distribution today. We’re getting more gaudily colored eggs, preceded by large and expensive signs pointing to that egg. Translation — we’ll get more gimmicky media with much more advertising and marketing support.But only for a select few. The rest of us will have to figure out how to get our word out with less.

On one hand, that’s pretty frightening. How can we compete with the Warner Bros of the world when it comes to raising the awareness for our media? The answer isn’t solely going to be “make better media”. Not in a world where the weekly box office reports are more cause for sobbing in my house than happiness. But, on the other hand, it’s also incredibly exciting to think of how we, as media creators, can use niche marketing, targeted advertising, and social networking, to build the awareness for our music, podcasting, films, books and more. We’re going to get savvier about how to find an audience, and much smarter about why smaller is better. We’ll also have to accept the fact that the age of paychecks with many, many zeroes at the end of the number, is going to get further and further away.

That’s my hope, actually.

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7 responses

23 03 2008
Tim

Great post, Norman. I just wrote about this same topic recently but only touched briefly on the distribution angle. One advantage the internet has in terms of media distribution is the ability for the audience to create hyperlinks that point to noteworthy content. The vast majority of the views of YouTube’s most popular videos (often with several million hits!) come from people posting or e-mailing the link to their friends and family, as opposed to stumbling across the video through keyword searches. Word of mouth is the most important factor in successful online distribution, in my opinion. Now if only we could develop a failsafe revenue model…

23 03 2008
Norman

Yes. That’s exactly what I meant in terms of social networking. I think a web site that combined YouTube and digg.com’s recommendation engine would be great.

24 03 2008
AndrewK

As “web 2.0” (or whatever you want to call it) starts maturing the big question of “how do I make money off the internet when everyone wants stuff for free?” is still looming overhead. The barrier for entry has been moved thanks to low cost gear, but all that really happen is the barrier for successful distribution just got raised. The “build it and they will come” mantra is correct, but it’s just not planning out like people thought. People are coming, but they don’t want to pay for anything once they get there (and they don’t want to watch pre-roll ads, they won’t stick around for post-roll ads and they complain that banner ads slow down/clutter up the site). Mike Curtis at HD for Indies has built a good sized following, but a year or so ago when he was trying different things to monetize his blog some readers got pissed and acted like Mike was selling out or betraying the “indie spirit.”
People, especially younger people, have gotten so used to “free” on the internet that they pretty much come to expect it. Radiohead’s, and more recently NIN’s, experiment w/internet distribution has been pretty telling, IMO. IIRC most people who paid for Radiohead’s album “In Rainbows” only gave $2 or $3 and something like over 40% of the downloads paid $0 (and this isn’t including all the P2P copies). NIN recently released 4 discs worth of new material for $5 and, from what I read, it was already generating big P2P traffic only hours after the album became available. $5 for 4 discs worth of original music is still *too much* for some people? Seriously?

-Andrew

24 03 2008
Luke Holzmann

I absolutely love the fact that it is possible to produce media for almost nothing. Shane Ross’s comment over on the Apple Forums was incredible insightful when I read it over a year ago (my, how time flies): http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=4103957&#4103957

But then, yes, how does one get others to see it? That’s been my issue with the free material I’m trying to put out for youth to use. How do you find them?

I agree with the idea that word of mouth is the future. We care less and less what people, even “real” people, say about things, and more and more about what our friends say. I rarely follow a link from anyone unless I know/trust them.

~Luke
Production-Now.com

24 03 2008
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