The Democratization of Content

(This post originally appeared on The Connected Wire)

As the internet becomes even more ubiquitous, more services are becoming available that make it even easier to create and distribute content. Services like Google Music, iTunes, and cdbaby allow anyone to sell their music with no obstacles and as computers become even more powerful, anyone can create professional level content easily.  This is going to (and in many cases already is) radically change the way we consume content.  Every type of media is going to have a few changes that will completely change the industry.

1. With more content available, it will be harder to find great content.

2.  Prices for content will drop.

3. Content will serve more niche audiences, allowing everyone to get the best content for them, and ending up enjoying it more.

 

TV

It is becoming even easier to make great videos, since the prices for quality cameras plummeting and computer software is becoming increasingly powerful.  With services like YouTube, Vimeo, UStream, or just your blog, you can instantly make your content available to anyone in the world for free.   To reach even a fraction of that audience before the internet was extremely difficult, and you had to be supported by giant media companies that decided what could be aired.

Now that anyone can make great videos, it becomes extremely difficult to find ones of good quality.  However, creativity can blossom and ideas that wouldn’t have been considered previously can become extremely popular. Since it is so cheap to produce the content, it is becoming even cheaper, just look at YouTube, you can watch professional level content absolutely free.  Previously, TV shows and movies were aimed at a broad audience, trying to appeal to as many people as possible, so more people will watch to offset the cost of making the show.  This isn’t true anymore.  Since it is so cheap to make quality videos, you can aim at a small niche, and super-serve those people.  This means that people will get content that exactly fits their interest.

Take TWiT.tv as an example. It is an online network that covers technology news, and is doing very well.  They serve a very small (yet very enthusiastic) niche of technology news and analysis, which wouldn’t have been possible before the internet.  Also, look at the No Agendashow; a podcast that covers political news that is entirely supported by fan donations, not advertising.

These are prime examples how the internet is completely changing the Television industry; however, they aren’t the only industry that is affected.

Music

This is an industry where the affects of the internet is much more obvious.  Just look at how people bought music before the internet existed.  The only hope of getting discovered was buy a giant record label that produced your CD.  If you were lucky enough to be chosen, you probably had one song on an album everyone wanted, with the rest of the songs being filler.  But since people wanted that one song, they bought the hole album.

Independent labels were really small, and generally not that successful.  Without being signed to a popular label, you had almost no chance of being discovered and getting your music sold.  The industry consisted of the extremely rich and successful, and the struggling artist hoping to get their big break.

Then came the internet.  People began to realize they could share music and get it all for free through services like Napster.  Suddenly the record labels realized they had to do something, and quick.  They had to completely change their business model if they wanted to stay alive, so they made a deal with Apple.  They couldn’t sell whole CDs anymore, they were forced to sell tracks individually, meaning that every song had to be as good a single to get the same sales.  Also, this made it extremely simple for anyone to have their music reach a very massive market.

Everyone is now their own music label, and has the potential to become extremely popular.  Just look at Rebecca Black, the music video for her sing Friday became a viral hit.  Even though it wasn’t a good song, and was mocked by the internet community, she is probably still making a ton of money.

While this is just the beginning of the tidal wave of change, we are already beginning to see the effects.  With all of this music available, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the more obscure music you would probably love.   There are several companies that try to make it easier to find music, such as Pandora, Spotify, RDIO and many more. Prices are dropping, such as being able to pay just for one song, instead of having to buy a whole CD just to get the one song you like.  Also, you can pay per month for streaming services, and listen to unlimited music for the price of a CD.  Lastly, the niche is better served.  For example, I doubt DubStep would have gotten nearly as many followers before the internet.

Books

While the same aspects are true for books as with other mediums, the change is just beginning and isn’t as obvious yet.  Books have remained the same for a very long time; even ebooks still have the same format as books, just in digital form.

However, the self publishing scene is rapidly changing. Since it is virtually free to get an ebook published, anyone can become an author and sell their books. Also, with services like Lulu, anyone can publish their book, and just pay to buy one.  Suddenly everyone can sell their book and become popular, which is leading to prices dropping, and more books being available about a wide range of topics.

While it may be difficult to find niche books, it is still fairly easy to find good books, because the industry hasn’t been completely upended yet.  Also, since it is a much more difficult task to write a good book, any accomplished author will be present in a bookstore, which acts as a curator for good content.

It will be a while before the book industry is changed, though it is beginning to happen.  The changes have happened in several stages, with music industry being the first affected, followed by Television and eventually books, which isn’t far off.

 The future

The internet is billed as the great equalizer, with everyone on a the same playing field and the chance of becoming popular.  While there are downsides to this, since the super popular won’t make as much money as they have previously; however, there will be many more people who can get their big break.  Also, with more people making more content, suddenly the vast majority are of very low quality.  This is the biggest hurdle we will face going forward.  Services will need to become better at filtering through the piles of dirt, so we can find the one gem.  Though once we get very good at this, the content becomes king and everyone that deserves to be discovered will be.

There are many sites like this currently available, however, they aren’t as good as they can potentially be.   It is very hard, nearly impossible, for an algorithm to determine quality.  Social signals are going to become increasingly important going forward, with you friends influencing the kind of content you will see.  Hopefully it will extend even beyond your group of friends, and showing content liked by people who are similar to you.

This is the reason that Google just integrated Google+ results into their search.  They know that your friends know more about you than any computer program can, and they can help influence your results for the better.  While they shouldn’t be the driving factor in what results you get, they should at the very least play a part.  Google has historically had the best formula for finding content, going forward the company that is able to master social signals will be the one that prevails.

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