This week my focus is on how we consume media1. This post will probably be a good prelude to one of the themes that I’ll focus on in the long run. In fact, I’ve already touched upon it a fortnight ago. In that post I said that the big media companies were “stuck in a pre-internet mentality where only they had the say”. Today I’ll expand on that a little bit.
A few weeks ago two very contentious pieces of legislation, called SOPA and PIPA, failed to pass Congress (one bill was in the House, the other in Senate). The bill was paid for by industry lobbyists and had no regard for how it would disrupt the internet. A lot has been written on the topic, probably the most accessible summary is by Elliot Noss on tucows. Long story short, after months of grassroots protests in the technology blogosphere, finally the big internet companies (Google, Wikipedia, Reddit to name three)2 stepped in, and enough awareness and backlash was created that the bills were tabled.
I want to focus on the aftermath of the whole thing. The first link is an editorial by Cary Sherman, the CEO of RIAA, in the New York Times. It’s just amazing how well written that editorial was. If I had not been playing close attention to whole thing for months, I’d have been easily hoodwinked. I’m sure the average NYT reader who read that must have said, “yea, he sounds very reasonable”3. The reality is that the statistics are distorted just the right amount to bend the truth but not be an outright lie. I’d provide a rebuttal, but Nate Anderson has a fantastic deconstruction on Ars Technica. I’m already recommending these articles by posting links to them, but just to be emphatic, please read the Ars Technica response, it covers a lot of ground (and truth).
The only additional thing I’d like to highlight from Sherman’s editorial is the following:
Wikipedia, Google and others manufactured controversy by unfairly equating SOPA with censorship.
The Ars Technica response does critique this as well, but there’s more to this story. In the eyes of the RIAA, MPAA, or the publishing industry, there are only two stakeholders in the game: them (“old media”) and technology companies (“new media”). The old media companies think if they can design laws to prevent new media’s growth, they can continue with their old, outdated models. They consistently forget the new stakeholders in the game. Us. In his editorial, Sherman consistently rails upon these technology giants for influencing us; it hasn’t occurred to him that because of the open internet, we have become a stakeholder in this business. Even after SOPA/PIPA, he failed to see the reality:
The conventional wisdom is that the defeat of these bills shows the power of the digital commons. Sure, anybody could click on a link or tweet in outrage — but how many knew what they were supporting or opposing?
He’s saying “conventional wisdom” as if its not really the truth. Again, he keeps assuming that we are passive. There to be influenced. It’s his companies versus their companies. The audience doesn’t fit into the worldview. It used to be like that before the digital age. A passive model. They would produce things, we’d consume them. Cable bundles we’re not interested in? Doesn’t matter, its an all or none package. DVD advertisements? Doesn’t matter, we can only consume. A CD with 1 hit and 9 fillers? Doesn’t matter, we can only buy the CD. In the internet age, all these models became obsolete. It wasn’t Google, or Apple, or whoever influencing us. We influenced them. We did things differently because we had the option to do it for the first time ever. And then the technology companies came in and filled the void. We wanted only one song, Apple made sure we could buy just that song. We wanted to see ‘just the good parts’ of SNL, Youtube was more than happy to accommodate us.
The new reality is that there are no gatekeepers to success. Producing content and consuming content aren’t two separate processes anymore. Before the advent of the digital age, they were nice, separate processes. If a person (us) wanted to make something, they would have to find these gatekeepers: a record label, a movie studio, a publishing house. Now, not only can we comment and criticize something, we can edit it and distribute it ourselves4. If we don’t like it, we can make it. These companies don’t realize that. They keep thinking we’re an audience to be won over. Create enough hurdles, and we’ll turn away from new media and back into their system. But the system changed. They still haven’t got the memo.
1. ‘consume’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot in tech circles; for the uninitiated it’s basically things that are done passively, that is there is no feedback, e.g. reading a book, watching a movie, listening to a song. I’m sure folks will quibble about the details, but that’s a good enough working definition. back up ↵
2. Unlike Wikipedia, Google and Reddit are not non-profits, so they had a bit less noble reasons for the bill to not pass. back up ↵
3. I don’t mean to disparage the “average NYT reader”. From personal experience, by the time technology news makes it into the New York Times it’s already old news in technology circles. That’s the beauty of the internet. Accommodates niches like never before. back up ↵
4. Copyright, remixing, CC licenses are obviously another huge topic by themselves. For another day… back up ↵