Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Interchangeability of All Things

I've gotten interested in the music site Pandora. Pandora is a streaming music site that plays music related to other music that you already like. It is a bit of an eye-opener for me.

I fed it a list of artists that I liked and listened as it fed me other artists and other songs that sound similar to them. And listened. And listened. And listened. All without repetition.

Now, true, some of the artists were better than others. But I think I could listen for more than a year hearing new artists and new songs, perfectly content.

So let me ask you this: why should I ever buy an album again?

Why do we buy any album? When the chances of finding what you want on a radio are little to slim, you buy the album because you get to hear the sounds you want when you want. But if you love your radio station, then there is no reason to buy any album, unless you really need to hear that one particular song.

As more and more music gets played, recorded, and released, the long tail of listenable music grows. If nothing is ever lost in time, then the amount of music that fits into my narrow range of interest, however small or large this may be, gradually becomes larger and larger.

As more and more sites provide listening one offs, music videos, promos, demos, and free music, the possibility of hearing any song that I want, or certainly any genre that I want, grows larger, too.

For music, movies, books, and so on, the business model of selling based on scarcity hits one more wall of impracticality.

We already hit that wall with books sometime last century. Anyone with good taste could spend their entire lifetime simply trying to catch up to the great works already written, almost all of which are now, or will soon enough be, in the public domain.

Books, music, and movies sell today because they are fresh or new, not because they are good. Interest and purchases revolve around cultural memes, not any particular talent. Just look at toy sales. Toys that sell well are the ones that match the latest movies, not the ones that are the most fun or the best made.

That is another effect of the Long Tail. It once more demonstrates how the publishing model is failing, and will continue to fail. But it also demonstrates how it can continue to succeed, if it reorients itself. Trying to hold on to content after it is released is a colossal waste of time. It is not the content that matters, it is the fresh access to it. People will always pay for earliest access to cool content. After that time period, which can be measured in weeks, not decades, the meme passes and the content is no longer relevant.

Games may follow this pattern, eventually. As the catalog of games gets larger and larger, and our access to all of these games becomes instant (Boardgamegeek) and global (eBay), the next best game is going sell due to its freshness, not due to its being better than other games.

That's where we hit the difference between gamers who have to keep playing new games, and gamers who are happy to only play the best games repeatedly. Is someone who buys one game, and plays only that one repeatedly, "hurting" the game market? Every time he plays the same game, it represents a lost sale of another game! Of course not. The game market is sustained on providing new games to new adapters, not in providing the best games. As Lost Garden writes this week, unless you've come up with something several generations ahead to start with, you're not going to corner any market.

This article seems to be ending up in a direction that I wasn't intending it to, but let me end by saying this: you, as a consumer, are being guilted into supporting the industry based on its current business model, whether it is games, music, or movies. Don't fall into that trap.

If you don't buy a piece of music, whether its because you copied it, bought it used, didn't like it, borrowed it from a friend, heard it online, sung it to yourself in the shower, boycotted the band or the publisher, or any of a thousand other reasons both legal and illegal that results in a lost sale to the artist, don't feel guilty about it. This lost sale is part of an outdated business model that shouldn't exist, anyway. Content can no longer support itself in sales. The providers have to provide other reasons to exist: freshness, tokens, tickets, something indispensable. Something that is not interchangeable.



Coldfoot said...

On the bright side: Blogs will never go out of style.

Gerald McD said...

Very interesting. I do believe that we will see innovative, new business models replace current ones. Look at today's online sales vs. brick-and-mortar stores. I was shopping recently for an item that I purchased at Walmart a couple of times over the past several years. They no longer carry the item. I shopped at several other likely stores, and no one carries it. Finally, one store actually suggested I check online. I bought the item online from the manufacturer and had it in hand, at a very reasonable price, in just a couple of days. I also tend to place large orders for books, movies, and music from Amazon, which I receive with no shipping or taxes charged, and the prices are equivalent or better than in my nearby stores. Yes, I am certainly planning to do more purchasing online, and I do not feel guilty about it.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Gerald - that's simply the interchangeability of all stores.


Yehuda Berlinger said...

Once I built a blog to show my face