05/10/2009

Don't Mistake Access for Content

The biggest difference between now and then (then being even just 10 years ago) is obviously the way in which we can access content. The way in which we can access our films, TV shows and music is easier, quicker and more convenient. The increase in cost for this near unrestricted access has been very little, if not actually decreased in cost substantially.

Rather than taking advantage of this near unlimited ability to copy and distribute to their advantage, many of the incumbent entertainment and media companies have revolted. They have eschewed the dramatic reduction in cost for distribution, and used the likes of DRM to block off others from getting their e-hands on these works apart from whom they have given permission to. What would make them take what seems to many others an opportunity, including both typical customers and the creators of works themselves, and turn it into something that threatens the very foundations of their “industry”?

There are 2 fundamental ideas they appear to be attached to. The first of which is that the decrease of cost in making something available and the subsequent availability is directly tied to value of the works they're outputting. In other words, their view is that a large portion of how much people value the entertainment is based on how much access you have to it, and subsequently a significant portion of their money is made almost entirely based upon how rare said work is, or at least how you obtain it.

The second and more likely option is that they have mistaken the reason for why people pay a larger sum for CD but are happy to copy for nothing over the internet. They have forgotten that a large part of that value and therefore the money that the consumer paid was in fact for the convenience of the printing and distribution of works for public consumption, and not because they necessarily genuinely valued the work itself at such a price. In other words, one of the main reasons people paid was for convenience - the convenience of owning a CD or vinyl copy for use at home to be able to listen to the songs they liked almost whenever they wanted to. With the onset of the internet and digital distribution, this cost has reached near zero. You don't even have to involve a (typical) publishing company any more.

This both threatens the mainstay of their business (the distribution of and subsequent sales of music) but may also lead to wrong conclusions that the reason people aren't paying for music any more is because they're basically thieves who have little thought for the recourse of their actions on the "industry". Their mentality so rooted in the physical distribution world that it blinds them, and having forgotten why people were paying such a large part of the price was for the service they provided (convenience in being able to obtain a personal copy), and not for the music itself.

They have mistaken the value as not being so much for the content, but for the availability of it. Thus, significant sharing and availability that isn't explicitly controlled by them is bad. They have tied the cost of access to a work to the fundamental entertainment value of the work. This might be partially born out of their business model - most of these companies, whether they be record companies or rather overly large film studios are primarily publishers/distributors. They're business model - and perhaps "value judgement" is based largely on the access to a work, or more accurately, the inability to access a work without them.

Let's take one step back and go back to where this all starts: Your local store. When you buy the latest physical copy of an album, game, film or other work, you are not only saying "I value the content of this work enough that I will gladly pay the price", you are saying "I value the convenience that this work being printed on CD/DVD affords me in being able to access the content". Construing the 2 as one in the same seems to be the fundamental problem.

The point of a publisher in whatever form is to act as a gateway - a company that provides a service of giving you the ability to access a work through making copies of it, especially at a large scale. Costs of reproduction and the complexity of reproduction was too high of a barrier to most people, and so publishers stepped in acting as the middle man between the artist wanting to give larger groups of people the ability to see and hear their works and the customer who wanted said works.

If they are making the above mentioned mistake of equating value of access as so closely tied if not inseparable from value of content then that turns into a frightening prospect. They're job being to provide access, when the cost of access is decreasing and availability is increasing, leads them to believe that higher availability is bad, and that sharing of the works is bad. It leads to the assumption that availability is directly reducing how much people value the works themselves, rather than simply a reduction in how much they value the service of providing access.

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