the emperor has no clothes

July 2, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Connection, I just can’t make no connection.
But all I want to do is to get back to you.
Connection, I just can’t make it, connection
But all I want to do is to get back to you.

Content is King? Where did this expression come from? Look for the original quotation on the web. If you find it tell me. And why did it achieve such prominence only since the dawn of the internet? Content did not start with the web, and yet somehow it has become the mantra of the digerati and digital media.

Back in November, 2007 Sumner Redstone enhanced this to, ‘If Content Is King, Copyright Is Its Castle’. As a content owner and producer, this was a perfectly understandable extension that sought to protect the accumulated value of his corporation’s content library.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to do one better. I’m not here to create a new quote that will etch me into posterity.  I believe that this meme has long outlived it’s former glory of being a tired, overused cliche.

Andrew Odlyzko in his seminal post “Content is Not King” plumbs the depth of this concept more than I intend in this article. His work is a great must read. I buy into his counter-cultural philosophy. The most compelling setup of his work centres on the following business observation:

What content does not have is money. This might seem absurd. After all, the media trumpet the hundred million dollar opening weekends of blockbuster movies, and leading actors such as Julia Roberts or Jim Carrey earn $20 million (plus a share of the gross) per film. That is true, and it is definitely possible to become rich and famous in Hollywood. Yet the revenues and profits from movies pale next to those for providing the much denigrated “pipes.” The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those “commodity pipelines” attract much more spending than the glamorous “content.”

This blog post in response to a recent Ad Age Article echos the sentiment from within the media industry:

“I wonder if this is part of a larger cultural trend. It seems like we are continuing, as a society, to de-value content. Writing, music, reporting, books, etc…we seem to expect all that information for free while we are willing to pay for access. So, we want the cheapest cell phone plan, the cheapest TV subscription service, the cheapest internet access so we can get all this free content. Businesses are being built on free content (think HuffPo, Google, etc.). It’s the same with agencies…clients want the cheapest access to agency services, and the content the agencies produce should be free. It’s very disheartening”

Pop over to Wired and in Future of Open Source: Collaborative Culture you’ll find:

Not long ago mass media was about the only kind of culture there was. The lucky few creative works that made it into general circulation were what copyright law was supposed to cultivate and protect. In the words of Harvard Law School intellectual law professor William Fisher, copyright “provides incentives for creative activities that otherwise would not occur.”

The dirty secret of mass media, though, was — and still is — that a great deal of it belongs to the companies that distribute it, rather than to the people who make it. That’s begun to change as the internet rewrites the rules about who can put creative work into the public sphere as well as who can take it out. Mass culture has traditionally required corporate middlemen to operate the machinery of publishing and broadcasting; without them, no one’s creation had any hope of reaching a broad audience. In the age of Flickr, Blogger, YouTube and Twitter, that’s simply not true anymore.

So, where am I going with this…?

A few points:

  • Professional content is not the only form relevant to the human condition – everyone has a story, some better than others, but overall, interaction with content is a human expectation. It is becoming less valuable because everyone can now create and distribute it – quickly.
  • Access to content is important – not only access, but the ability to share your story with those that care, or at least casually interested.
  • The internet has enabled the best self-organizing* means of distribution we have yet invented – it is a scale-free network and as such it breaks traditional business paradigms, and we’re just adjusting to change.
  • Finding an audience is most important – maybe distribution is king? Being connected to paying customers is better than havng the ‘potential’ of being great. Without links (read relevance), the emperor has no clothes.

The last point is most important. Just about every hollywood movie has the ‘potential’ to be a blockbuster, at least they are promoted that way. Every owner and creator of creative product believes in their work, as they should. But potential does not always translate into reality. What makes a block buster is the distribution… no-one sees it – not a blockbuster, everyone sees it – could be a blockbuster, everyone wants to see it = blockbuster.

In the end, it comes down to this simple equation content + distribution = media. Always has been, always will be. So it’s not “content is king” or “the medium is the message”, it is really having a great accessible products at a good price. Sound familiar?

Media monopoly over – time to start learning how to sell again.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*Linked, Albert-Laslo Barabasi, 2002 Pengiun ISBN 0-7382-0667-9

Entry filed under: Media. Tags: , , .

technology creates media businesses lights in their eyes

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