A few weeks ago Roger McNamee published two blogicles dealing with content distribution and media. The first is on Why Content And Distribution Should Be Separate. One implication of this article is that the majors are firmly entrenched and technology will not be the source of disintermediation. He may be right. But especially in the music realm, P2p networks plus DRM plus efficient payment processing give artists an opportunity to get a larger share of the pie. Much further out is film and video given the production complexities among other issues.
The second address The Role of Digital Rights Management. Here are a couple of the key ideas:
I believe that the industry is hurting itself by focusing so much on digital rights management. Consumers have a large and growing number of entertainment options, and I have never met one yet who viewed DRM as a benefit. To the extent that DRM makes an entertainment option less convenient or more expensive, it will give consumers an incentive to look for more convenient, less expensive alternatives. There is no substitute for Casablanca or Sgt. Pepper’s, but there are substitutes for every entertainment delivery channel ever made. The music industry’s hyper-focus on DRM caused it to miss a big opportunity in the late-90s and gave rise to piracy on peer-to-peer file sharing networks. I oppose the unauthorized sharing of copyrighted materials, but I understand the psychology that led to music piracy. Consumers wanted digital music over the Internet. They also wanted to be able to acquire one song at a time. They perceived that the industry was being unreasonable first in refusing to provide legitimate options, and then later in providing options that were both expensive and lame.
All fair points. Some of the industry's problems, in my view, stem from consumer DRM implementations that either are way to restrictive or don't do much for rightsholders. The age of Goldilocks DRM is not yet upon us.
If Goldilocks DRM were a reality, would it make a difference? Don't know. The information wants to be free mentality--the transposition of Grateful Dead touring mentality into the music distribution business--suggests that consumer will resist all DRM. Period. But the question is what is an unreasonable restriction.
I suspect that the perception (reasonably correct) that the media and distributions companies make out big time while most artists suffer under the present regime may provide some underpinnings for a "screw the majors" attitude among file sharing folks.
Digital rights management is a crutch. Media companies behave as though the limitations of DRM absolve them of the need to be supportive of or creative with respect to new distribution channels. This strikes me as spectacularly short sighted. In the era of the Long Tail - where new distribution systems enable ever-increasing consumer choice - the economic benefits of withholding content are less obvious than in the past. Entertainment is moving steadily from an event-based model - where the time and place of entertainment are strictly controlled by media companies - to an impulse purchase model where consumers are in control. Content owners who do not participate in the new model will surrender economic value to those who do. If they withhold their content long enough, some content owners may discover that consumer tastes have moved on.
Again, fair enough. What's needed in my view is DRM and real superdistribution, maybe something like New Media Utility, a utility not unlike that described by David Kusak and Gerd Leonhard in The Future of Music. Their metaphor is "Music Like Water."