Recently in America, two bills were in committees in Congress which had far-reaching ramifications for the future of media on the Internet. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) were brought about via intense lobbying from powerful groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). You may remember the former group from the early part of the last decade where their best idea for how to tackle the rise of the Internet was to sue the biggest consumers of music. No prizes for guessing how that worked out for them.
Since the rise of the Internet, the music and movie industry have never managed to quite come to terms with it. In an infamous article for Rolling Stone, former Universal Music head Edgar Bronfman, Jr. professed not that they waited and watched and did nothing as an information revolution went on around them, but that “we never saw it coming.” If Bronfman was a doctor, the negligence would be criminal. As it turns out, he was simply head of the largest music company on the planet, and his shareholders were quite happy to let him remain that way.
The crux of the issue is these businesses are predicated on increasing demand and controlling supply. Marketing campaigns and music videos increased demand, geography was the key arbiter of limiting supply. You had to be somewhere in the physical world where you could buy that piece of music or watch that particular movie. The international operations that funded so much of the growth of these companies were setup in much the same manner. Music and movies were licensed to subsidiaries all around the world, and when you are the only person who can provide the public with that year’s biggest records and movies, then you have a pretty good lock on the disposable income that gets directed towards entertainment in that market.
The entertainment industry would have you believe that a generation of thieves and recalcitrant content consumers has overnight been created, that human nature has, in a matter of years, flipped itself on its head. What I am arguing is that things are the same as they always were, and that the only lens you need to put on human behaviour goes like this: given a choice between free and paid, we will take free. And given a choice between now and later, we want that thing now. What these industries fail to realise is given a choice between free and later or now and paid, most people will get out their wallets and hand over their hard-earned.
The entertainment industry has failed at this because their business models have not to date allowed them to support now and paid at the scale it requires. In a world where TVs take up entire walls of your home and the speaker setup would have made a young George Lucas weak at the knees, new movies are still the exclusive domain of cinemas. Why? In an entertainment world where new acts are broken on YouTube and 12 year olds from Australia to Argentina can fall in love with the same new heart-throb at the same time, why do release schedules and licensing arrangements make it so that those fans have no legal way to shower their idols with financial affection until the record company’s schedule says so? See this article for more.
These companies want all the benefits of the new world while maintaining the bloated operations that have defined their existences. They don’t want to make the hard choices the rest of the business world is making in order to not only stay afloat, but thrive. They instead seek vindication in the courts and in government, carving out for themselves a role as the noble scholar wedded to his hand-writing as the world comes to embrace Gutenberg’s printing press.
Once again, no prizes for guessing how that worked out for them.