The Monster Disconnect Between Law, Tech and the Culture of Consumption
[UPDATE]: Some small changes have been made to the organization of this article for the sake of clarity.
The relationship between content owner, consumer and technology is constantly in flux. Our recent discussion of Bluegrass and Social Media got me thinking about how folkloric musical traditions and institutions are constantly under pressure to balance tradition and innovation. This tension is especially poignant when reflecting on the force with which evolving technologies exerts on music consumption and the perceived value of digital content.
There is a stark difference between the class of consumers known as “digital natives” and everyone else. These folks (myself included) are usually between 13-25 and developed during the tail end of the CD age. They grew up with mp3s and are generally well-versed in music acquisition (legally or otherwise). Interestingly, they are also the sweet-spot demographic coveted by everyone from advertisers to record labels. They also are arguably the most engaged and most voracious listeners.
Although these “digital natives” are completely awash with choices, there is one major element of their behavior that separates them from their “cultural forefathers”: what we might call “value perception conditioning”.
Further Reading: Presentation on Media Habits of 8-18 year-olds (via Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010)
Take, for example, terrestrial radio. Remember radio? Yes, people scoff at the quality of the programming (where I live there is NO bluegrass radio stations!), but radio wasn’t just a place for music discovery, it was where music lovers were made. Teenagers who grew up on radio were being bred into passionate music consumers, who valued music as a product in a particular way. Their exposure was fed to them and purveyors of that content later cashed in on their genuine desire to consume music by dominating the physical distribution chain.
Nowadays, in the absence of something as ubiquitously influential as radio or scarcity-dependent as vinyl/tapes, digital natives have understandably migrated to a different way of “tasting” before purchasing. The tendency to try before you buy hasn’t changed at all, but nowadays the taste is the same as the final product; there’s not much left to sell. However, many of the most ravenous music consumers (those with the most compelling reason to buy) have become comfortable with “other” methods for getting content.
[UPDATE] – To be clear, I have/had no intention of coming off as pro-piracy. However, there are artificial pressures (that I believe stem from inadequate copyright legislation) that create significant obstacles for new (and existing) digital distribution models.
That said, even if such obstacles were theoretically removed, it wouldn’t eliminate piracy, but it might increase the number of folks who opt to pay. With a better IP infrastructure to support better services, you’d have happier customers who are more willing to pay for those services. Considering how few people are paying now, a marginal uptick in paid consumption could make a significant difference.
My point was that there are better ways to incentivize consumers to buy, but services that give those consumers better experiences are being held back. The law currently is out of sync with the available tech and with consumer behavior. The way it was written wasn’t clear. —
When we debate piracy, digital distribution and most of all reasonable compensation for creators, we think we are debating the “fair value” for music as a product. The fact that music is largely accessible for free does not equate to it’s fair market price being zero. The problem we face is creating (and more importantly, implementing) infrastructure that can support monetization models that complement the increasingly complex reality we all live in.
Framed culturally however, without adjusting the permission structure of the IP landscape, licensing will continue to lock up content and hamper innovations in distribution, compensation and enforcement, further conditioning consumers to make “piracy” the norm.
The methodology for “protecting” content up to this point has only risked throwing the baby out with the bathwater; a change in posture/policy is crucial. However, I see a larger cultural consequence of the industry response to piracy: impeding the natural dissemination of our traditions and creativity.
I think an important question is: What do we stand to lose by preventing access?
Without access to the past, how does music (an expression of our culture) evolve? Music is never created in a vacuum; every artist is influenced by the past and every future artist will be influenced by the present. As people reuse content to make something new, they add to the “value” of the older work by re-introducing it to the listening public, benefitting both the old and new works.
While we worry about how to monetize creativity, inhibiting creativity is a very real concern. Without access, the influence of great art is artificially diminished and could theoretically become less culturally relevant (at least until it falls into the public domain) which decreases the likelihood of its being recognized, enjoyed and shared. I certainly care about paying artists now, but I’m more interested in preserving and cultivating our traditions to touch as many people as possible today and tomorrow.
“‘Big Content’ is Strangling American Innovation” (HBR, 3/11/2011)