June 18, 2012
In the coming weeks I’m going to be spending a lot of time thinking about content, media, and entertainment, and trying to understand what current events might tell us about the future of that industry. I’m also experimenting with content of my own that includes audio, video and interactive components rather than just text, so now would be an appropriate time to type about the general idea.
The big reason I’m obsessed with content lately is because on average, its value seems to be falling as fast as the prices on production and distribution technology. I’m incredibly excited that the barrier to entry for an independent musician has never been lower than it is right now, for example, but this situation is causing other problems. Promotion is now far and away the largest investment that a typical media producer has to make, so quality suffers. And because fans now have essentially unlimited access to content, they are becoming jaded to the considerable effort that still goes into actually creating it, and are less willing to give their money to media producers as a result.
Let me make this clear: those who believe that content curators don’t actually need to own and care for their music, or books, or videos, or software (or that the Internet can conjure up all of these things and more, indefinitely, by virtue of its very existence) will eventually realize what happens when a social phenomenon is trusted to organize and archive ideas. Specifically, it still does not work very well.
The “Netflix problem” is a good example: I can access a massive library of motion media at any time, bought from established studios and streamed through the Internet to my TV, and yet almost every time I simply want to pick out a movie to watch, I can never find it on Netflix. If I always knew that I was going to be interested in “mind-bending foreign thrillers” or maybe “goofy critically-acclaimed comedies” then I would have much less of a problem finding appropriate content, but that is never what I am actually looking for. In general, when I take the time to watch a movie, I want to see ideas that are important, and useful, and novel, and skillfully presented. Basically, I want to see the “good” movies by my own definition of “good,” and Netflix doesn’t provide more than 10 mediocre recommendations in that category.
Of course it really couldn’t be any other way, because scientifically, the Internet is just a bunch of smartass humans who wired their computers together for efficiency! More people need to understand that idea. I see a lot of what I’d almost call disappointment, because Facebook wasn’t actually able to save the Middle East, or because the next Instagram will sell for a lot less than a billion dollars, or because Justin Bieber is still famous, and it doesn’t really sit right with me at all. In fact, it seems rather naive and entitled.
Although the ponzi schemers may say otherwise, there has never been any magical voodoo behind this Internet business. Even if there was, Newton and Maxwell never could have done Einstein’s work by crowdsourcing it. The Internet only matters because the people who built it and use it have done great things with it. It will never be great or profitable or world-changing for any other reason.