Sunday, 22 November 2009

The cusp of media

So Murdoch says that Google and their ilk are 'content kleptocrats', "stealing" news from news makers. Then we have Google Books trying to "steal" copyrights from established publishers.

It all sounds very similar to Napster "stealing" music from music distributers in the early noughties. That industry has shifted fairly well. Fundamentally, I think, because they realised that 'the customer is king' was not some ropey business school mantra, but, in the age of social media, business critical. Gone are the days when the company is, de facto, better informed about the market than its consumers. In fact, with social media flattening all that marketing persuasion, the savvy companies are realising that they are outnumbered and that trying smother off-message consumers is not only uncool but also potentially very damaging.

While this is all very disruptive to modern business models, think about the raw substance for a minute. A musician creating a tune. A journalist investigating a story. A novelist creating a book. Surely the true measure of value is the time taken to create the content times the popularity of that content.

Content value = creation time x quality factor(copies sold)

This was undoubtedly the case before recorded media: the printing press, the phonograph-CD, the photograph-movie. In fact the historical precedent in the music recording industry was sheet music: have a read about the fuss that recorded music caused the sheet music industry. There's a fascinating case of one industry devouring another and now, decades later, being devoured.

So the modern argument against my little equation above was Marketing. Big bands/authors/movies couldn't be big unless there was huge expenditure on media events: launch parties, adverts, hype etc. The fundamental assumption of that argument is that consumers cannot inherently choose for themselves - they need to be guided by some Marketing Machine that tells them what is cool and what is not cool.

Yet, ironically, the most attentive consumers of any given media/brand/band/author/director studiously ignore the marketing hype in favour of valuing the content for itself - the quality factor in my equation above. Now, before social media, the loudest voice was the biggest, so the attentive consumers could easily be smothered by the Marketing Machine. But now the attentive consumers have the tools to fight back.

I don't know about you but whenever I research any buy online these days, be it books, music, consumer goods or holidays, I always look for the best and worst opinions. So not only is consumer king, but, from the content creation perspective, contrast is king.
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