Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Times they are a Changin

The media and technology industries are all currently struggling through accelerating and constant change. Those who once controlled the respective channel may no longer be guaranteed the same position of status in the new world. This is most relevant in the middle of the chain where today power is often centred.
Everywhere the middle man has to find new ways to innovate, add and deliver value.
Creative power is no stronger than in the music world where artists want more control of how their music is heard, distributed and how they interact with their fans and we have witnessed the recent Hollywood writers strike and the major contract revolts from musicians.

‘Will authors be driven to stop writing?’ was the headline the Times asked this week on the changing fortunes of authors and whether there were new payment models to secure their author earnings. Are authors different to other creative artists? Are they an endangered species? Do they need special funding and government support?
Creativity will always be there and money, or the lack of it, will never stop it. The people may change, the rewards may change but the creative juices will still flow. So the change we are debating is not authoring but the change of the model that currently supports it.

The polarization of talent is likely to increase, with top earners demanding and getting rewards and then a huge gulf to those who do not have the same financial clout. In music many now have to make their monies through performing, merchandising and where the music may have to be subsidized by other means. What we are seeing is a huge battleground in the mid and backlist areas in all media sectors. Will the rewards remain the same – highly unlikely? Will some be driven back to a dependence on other income – highly probable? Is this a good or bad thing – its change?

The important thing to remember is that it’s not just the creators that face these issues and we would be far more concerned if we were publishers, agents, retailers or intermediaries between the author and the reader. The days of publishers putting any price on the jacket, as long as it covered costs and maintained margin, are coming to an end and digitization is likely to bring in sharper price points just as it did in other media. We have all witnessed new marketing and channel innovation and the need to create and grow sales.

Will consumers demand more for free and greater options to see what they are buying before they purchase – almost certainly? Will best sellers be born out of marketing budgets and ‘X Factor’ awards – yes?

Another change that is happening is the blurring and also the divergence of markets. Consumers demand choice, new, old, used and bargain, but the digital environment removes the barriers that have long separated these false divisions. Again music has broken free of its fixation on the top ten to recognise hundreds of top tens. The download chart no longer respects release dates. What this could mean is that there will be less new titles and greater access and consumption of older ones.

Some believe that the threat of more for free is a bad thing. That the music industry was undermined by illegal downloads and the same could happen to authors. We would argue that the music industry got in a mess as it didn’t understand the changes and tried to fight them by suppressing them and remaining in their old world. Illegal downloads were merely a battleground in what was a far larger war. The lesson we should all learn is how to adopt and adapt to change and that the author and reader are the two constants throughout all this change.