Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Pay..

A lot of the local blogetariat (and now me, too) have written about the rise of new media (and the concomitant decline of the old). While the days of the printed newspaper as we've come to know and love it (or, come trash/recycling day, know and loathe it) may be numbered, I trust that entrepreneurial types 'round the world will find new ways to bring us the things we need, conveniently, and make a tidy dollar or two in the process.

I noticed this article in the Economist yesterday http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13109804 about Amazon's Kindle and other e-readers that are gaining steam with book-lovers. Good for them. They've found a clever way to market a legitimate product in an easy-to-use, handy format that doesn't clutter people's houses, burn down trees to produce, or weigh down peoples' cars when they move.

I love the fact that iTunes has been so successful, despite many predictions that people were too used to downloading free music to pay for a service like the one it offers. iTunes proves that people will do the right thing, provided it's convenient, user-friendly, and reliable (and the threat of going to jail or paying huge fines for illegal downloads doesn't hurt, either). Witness also the runaway success of Netflix, which offers the by-the-mail service as well as the instant-to-your-PC version of movies.

For me, the best thing going right now is the podcast. Because I spend a LOT of time driving, podcasts provide me with the perfect solution for being stuck in an enclosed space but wanting to be reading and/or learning. Now, many podcasts are free, but not all are. Some are pay-to-play, some are split content (some is given away, the rest you gotta pay for), and some are free assuming you already pay for something else (like the Economist's podcast, which is free for paying print edition subscribers). Without the podcast, I might've canceled my Economist subscription because I've noticed a few more stack up on the kitchen table than I've had time to read, but I keep it going just because it hooks me up to the podcast. With Learning Indonesian (www.learningindonesian.com) I found a great free service that inspired me to pay for a subscription to all the content (which I've found, by the way, to be well worth it).

I'm sure there are many people out there with long commutes, who walk on the treadmill every day, or who just enjoy listening to the spoken word, and want to use things like podcasts to keep them informed.

For every one of those people, there's a potential for some innovative marketer/entrepreneur to make a buck. All parties can be better for the transaction.

The same could be said for any form of media -- yes, it will morph, but no, the main ideas behind it won't die. Things will change shape, but the changes will provide opportunities for those who can see them coming from down the road, and seize upon them.

Consumers, by and large, will benefit.


Matt said...

I agree. But both content creators and consumers need to accept the fact that it can't be free.

Case in point: in the press, YouTube hailed as the future of audio-visual content, a chance for the creators to take back creative control from the corporate studios. It's bullshit. Last year I put up a sketch that got 1 million+ hits. I saw zero payment. But guess who did? Yup, YouTube, whose ad revenues only increased thanks to the popularity of my work.

One of the blurkiest things I hear when I complain about difficulties getting an independent movie financed is: "just shoot it and put it on the Internet." The irony, of course, is that while I've been remunerated for my work from the bad corporate studios, I haven't seen a penny from the Internet. And without payment, it's awfully hard to be a professional artist.

Roosevelt Corollary: also true for newspapers. The New York Times' revenue keep spiraling downward, leaving everyone scratching their heads. But dummies -- why would I pay for something I can get for free?

The New Englander said...


You're right, not only did YouTube benefit but so did all the viewers who saw it...no one was forced to sit through any annoying ads, no one had to pay anything, but everyone who clicked on the video still got to watch. You get no immediate benefit as the creator (though you have to admit YouTube is a vehicle that gives you an amazing resume bullet -- how many can say they've done anything that's been viewed 1,000,000+ times?).."giving it away" might be a start for some people, but you're 100% right that anyone advising people to just put their stuff out their wholesale shouldn't expect whoever they're advising to ever make a buck. That goes squarely in the "advice that should be rejected" column.

But I still love the model that certain sites use...we'll give you a taste for free, and if you like it..you can pay.

For the NYTimes, it's even more amazing that as their revenues keep declining, they're giving MORE content away...just within the past few years, I've noticed that all the op-eds became free (for a while back in college, I used to buy the hard copy just to have and keep those)...even the archived ones (that used to all be premium content). You're right that from a business model, that's terrible.

As a NYTimes crossword puzzle addict (hey, I just about killed a Thursday this morning!) I buy the hard copy SOLELY for the puzzle...so they get the $1.50 from me, but if they started giving that away, of course they'd lose that, too..

..but as obvious as all this is, I think people will learn the lessons about new media and profitability as time goes on. As all the things we're talking about becoming more and more obvious, I would expect to see more successful models like Netflix Direct, iTunes, and "we'll give you a taste for free" sites like www.learningindonesian.com flourish.

But in the meantime, some forms of wholly free Internet media will mean the masses lose their...butts.