Everyone loves Apple. And Google. There’s a warm fuzzy about Facebook, too. When people see Amazon walking down the street they give it high fives.
Everyone hates the music industry. And newspapers. Those cheeky, know-it-all hacks. When people see book publishers walking down the street they roll their eyes at them. And forget Hollywood. Those frauds!
We are living in strange, transitional times.
No doubt content producers have their faults. The music industry, for example, has a sketchy history of screwing their own artists and gauging customers. The same is generally true for book publishers, movie producers and newspaper publishers. All of them are guilty of having become arrogant and possessing a sense of superiority that now has many people rooting against them.
We think of content producers now as gaggle of old, out-of-touch Luddites in bow-ties who want to steal our access to their content.
We have turned our love to the technology companies like Apple and Amazon. They are the progressive hipster in tight jeans there to set content free – to give it to us whenever and however we like it.
Conventional wisdom sees iTunes as reinventing music – giving us an easy, convenient and inexpensive way to enjoy our music. We see Amazon selling ebooks at below publishers’ rates – giving us a deal for the books we love. We all see these technology companies as setting creative culture free from the chains of the stuffy content producers.
Who needs these greedy middlemen when the Internet will let artists go directly to their audiences?
Well, it turns out that creativity needs content producers. And so do we.
Because guess what? For all of their faults and flaws, content producers foot the bill for creative culture. They pay for it. Because the music industry does something that Apple has never done. It discovers, produces, promotes and pays musicians to create and perform music.
Apple just sells the music. In fact, they don’t really sell music. They sell iPads, iPods and iPhones. They sell music at a loss in order to provide the content people demand to play on the devices they sell. Apple doesn’t care about the content – as long as it is cheap and available and, of course, provides an incentive for people to buy their hardware.
The same goes for Amazon. They sell e-book cheap so you’ll buy the Kindle. Google wants free content so they can help you find it and then sell advertising and keywords around it (basically selling ads around other people’s creative efforts).
Technology is cheapening content creation – making it a commodity and sending it spirally to the bottom. When people buy $9.99 ebooks rather than $25 hardcover books and $15 trade paperbacks the people who end up suffering are writers and authors. The editors and proofreaders. They all get paid less.
As a result, book publishers take fewer risks on fewer authors.
You might love Amazon, but they don’t discover, nurture and pay advances to writers so they have the time and resources to finish their projects. Amazon doesn’t provide editors, researchers and fact-checkers either. They don’t promote and market authors’ books.
But book publishers do. Or at least they used to before their business model collapsed and all of their profits were slashed by or diverted to technology companies.
Wait, wait, you say, the Internet now makes it easy for musicians to reach their audience directly. They don’t need music companies to do that anymore. They can put their songs on MySpace and Facebook. They can sell MP3s right to their fans.
Except that there are tens of thousands of bands on MySpace and Facebook. There are millions of songs available for downloads at iTunes. Turns out that it isn’t easy to find your fans – alone. It takes nurturing. Money and experience. It take marketing and promotion savvy.
It takes the music industry.
The alternative is that only artists who understand marketing become popular. The ones who don’t suffer. I’d rather have my favorite folk singer focused on making music – not on gathering Facebook friends and sending out e-mail newsletters.
You might not like paying more for content. That’s understandable. But the money you used to pay for it went back to creative culture – yes, to the respective industries, but also to writers, journalists, poets, musicians, actors and directors. It went back into the system to fund new and more music, movies, books and reporting.
Now it is going to technology companies.
And they don’t spend any money on culture. In fact, they cheapen it. They exploit it.
What do you think?