Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Key to Media Profitability is Respect

I talk to alot of people in various media. Most of them don't really care about file sharing one way or another. The thing I've found, with music, is that most of the people I know buy alot of CDs (physical or digital) from artists that they like because they respect the artists and they know how hard they work. They know that most artists (unless you're U2 or Coldplay) are not wealthy and make their money by a combination of recorded music sales, merchandise and concert attendance. So the fans show respect to the artist by buying something. Some may download the music for free but they go to live shows and buy t-shirts. The artists, in turn, respect their fans and will accept this partial payment - the artists know that their fans are also not made of money. The artists also know that there is little they can do about file sharing and would rather remain on good terms with the audience that create an adversarial relationship over a few dollars.

This is the kind of relationship, based on mutual respect, that needs to exist for your media company (in whatever medium) to survive. Sometimes it is the audience that needs to show more respect. To download an unreleased album or an unreleased film shows a lack of respect for the artists. It is up to the creator of the content to decide when it is done and when it is available to the public. You wouldn't want someone reading your rough drafts - or making them available to the public at large.

Most of the time though it is a lack of respect on behalf of the media. To actually expect fans of your film to pay to see it in the theatre and then to buy it on VHS, and DVD, and Blu-Ray and then to buy another .mp4 copy for their iPod shows a lack of respect for the audience and it should come as no surprise if that lack of respect is returned.

I have bought Sandanista by the Clash three times - on Vinyl, then on CD, then on CD again. If something should happen to my copy I should be able to download another one. I have shown my respect to the creators of the album three times over. But according to the big record labels I should not only buy it again, I should buy the CD and then buy it in digital form if I want it on my computer and then buy it yet again if I should if I want it on my portable MP3 player. That shows an intense lack of respect for the audience and it should come as no surprise if that lack of respect is returned (especially when the record companies have a poor track record on supporting artists.)

I pointed out in my last post that the problem that big media is facing is not due to downloading, it is due to their inability to adapt to the increased competition of the million channel universe. Taking your problems out on your fans and your best customers (and taking $222k from a single mom because you lost $8) is the ultimate show of disrespect and if that disrespect is returned at the same level your company will not survive.

To date big media (record labels, movie studios, and others) have shown almost no respect to the audience, but they demand back full and total respect, even a little bit of awe. I do not, at this moment, believe that most of these companies will survive. If one day I rent a DVD and, instead of an anti-piracy advertisement, see the head of the MPAA on his knees begging forgiveness and offering free downloads of all films made prior to 1990 - I may change my mind. I'm afraid though that it would take something on that level for me to have any confidence that Fox, Vivendi, Universal, etc., are going to be around in 20 years.

If you, as a content producer in any media want to have a lasting career and a growing audience that is willing to pay - not because they have to but because they support you - try earning the respect of the audience. If you create intelligent, meaningful, worthwhile media and show respect and appreciation for everyone in your audience you'll be fine.

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