On Napster, the Creative Class, and the Future of FREE...
Dear Friends, Fans, and Feline-aficionados,
I was catching up on eps of Silicon Valley the other day. I love the show. My tech and venture capital pals assure me that the portrayal is pretty much an accurate one. And, as I watched the latest, I was reminded of something I used to ponder often. Specifically, when the douchey, monied bro’ below spouted the following:
‘I put Radio…on the Internet.’
Yes. That happened. And not just on the show.
Napster changed everything. But was it for the ‘better’? I can’t help but feel some days that they were singlehandedly responsible for planting the grotesque, rarely-before-thought perception in the minds of a generation of consumers — that they hand-birthed the reality where music (and, by association, nearly ALL creative output) should be free.
The music market went limp as the Internet swelled. Publishers either played dumb/superior, or went on a ‘blame everyone and burn ’em at the stake’ copyright witch hunt. There was denial, sure, and then lots of scrapping over this wild new turf.
Then Apple swooped in with good tech, great design, and the whole monetization thing — a corporate piece of half-eaten fruit convinced us that music DID have a value after all. A whopping 99 cents. Like something on the Value Meal at Wendy’s.
Flash forward to the present day. What you have slashed music pre-orders and album sales in all formats (save vinyl!), streaming and aggregate services stiffing award-winning acts with shitty royalties, and radio reduced to being a shiny, automated, big-publisher megaphone. The only way musicians can secure dollars (and Euros, and pounds sterling) is to tour relentlessly, or pimp ever-evolving merch after making polite pleas to the masses…
I bring this up here because, when you really look at it, there are some interesting (and frustrating) parallels to transmedia. It’s not just about the core ‘creative vision’ anymore. Nope. It’s not just the album. Or the movie. Or the series. Or the (gulp) book. As a creator in the digital landscape and ‘New Economy’, we need to be keenly aware of WHAT we make, WHY we made it, WHO wants it, and HOW we should create a complete spectrum of experience for the audience to resonate with.
(which still doesn’t mean any of this shit ends up GOOD)
You need to plant breadcrumbs along a path, through this dark and tangled digital forest, and straight to your content. But don’t forget to account for the new reality that there may well be several ways to get there — multiple arteries guiding back to the HEART of your creative work, each one carrying an unique flow of emotional lifeblood for and from it.
A comic needs a movie needs merch needs apps/games needs literary adaptation(s) needs…a series order on Netflix.
An EP needs an album needs CD/Vinyl/iTunes needs radio/Spotify needs music videos needs a tour w/new merch needs…an App containing the next EP.
Well, the traditional Big 5 are like the oldschool publishers in the music industry. Fewer and fewer real ‘talent signings for fair $’ are happening. Draconian copyright/ownership contracts are now the norm. Royalty loopholes take any dreams of real earnings, bend them over, and whisper dismissive before thrusting. And cookie-cutter marketing campaigns will leave most projects buried in gluts of other new releases, where it somehow has to make an immediate splash…or get buried and forgotten within 6-8 weeks.
Meanwhile, Amazon has donned its world-crushing cape to assume the role of Apple in our story — championing the cheap, the easily deliverable, and (here it comes) the free. Got a paperback? Sell it at cost. Got an ebook? Give it away. Got a career aspiration in the arts? Bully for you, Shakespeare — but keep it to your breaks on the other side of the barista counter.
And that’s why I’m putting down some serious crumbs. For my future audience. And for the work itself.
A book needs care. It needs to make personal and emotional connections. It needs a live, human component. It needs audio-visual hooks. It needs tasteful and iconic merch. It needs a compelling, stylish, and spacious digital ‘home’. And all of these things (and many, many more if you have the time and resources and vision) lead up to…
…the announcement of the next book.
But that’s a ways off, my friends.
Enjoy your walk in the woods…
And count your breadcrumbs 😀