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Embracing change - online distribution of content

Will the next dominant player in the content world be a new company (such as Google) or an established content owner that embraces online distribution instead of fighting it?

Catching up on my reading last night I came across an article in the WSJ ("Microsoft Hits Google's Use of Books") covering the comments of Microsoft's associate General Counsel on Google's "cavalier approach to copyright" by digitizing books to enable them to be searched. As I read through the article and a lot of its blog commentary, I kept thinking how every new form of content distribution was at first fought against tooth and nail then finally embraced. I suspect that the companies which embraced the new form of distribution became the new dominant content providers.

From all the press coverage (book publishers versus Google, RIAA against Internet Radio,…) one could be led to a conclusion that this battle front is between the content owners and those who are seeking to use new distribution (the Internet) to get a piece of the action.

That's certainly a key issue but there's a second battle front between the content owner and the consumer that is less obvious. Here are a few data points:

  • As distribution has moved from analog and physical form to digital, the minor constraints that were placed on re-use and re-distribution are gone.
  • Consumers have cheap and easy access to tools (mostly software) that let them generate content – both originated by the consumer and mixed from content to which they have access.
  • Digital Rights Management is a fantasy for two reasons. As Steve Jobs pointed out, 99% of content is NOT protected by DRM and secondly, the use cases for content are already well established and the consumer won't put up with a change.
  • IP protection via software tools to detect copyright violation is in the realm of the Mars-mission – maybe possible, very expensive, and with many failures along the way.
  • New distribution channels (YouTube, etc.) offer a different path to monetizing content through advertising. Unfortunately the content owner doesn't control this distribution channel and so isn't in a strong position to negotiate let alone control the brand experience

The content owners have a big problem – the consumer is generating billions of little pieces of their content which wind up in a billion different locations. This atomization of content makes it almost impossible for the content owner to enforce their rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

One possible answer is for the content owner to take back distribution – make it easy for consumers to re-mix content and distribute it through the content owner. The content owner then gets to maintain their brand, track distribution and find their own alternative paths to monetization.

Years ago I got this piece of advice on how to deal with change – Embrace, Extend, Envelop! The content owners who follow this strategy will prevail and extend their reach – the rest will go the way of the cassette tape pictured above and join the Dodo!




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Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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