Monday, January 04, 2010

What Will Happen When YouTube Isn't Free

Bono has written an op-ed in the New York Times touching on the topic of music piracy. The usual counter-arguments are presented in the comments to the article and the usual lunatics tend to prevail.

Fine for now. In the near future, maybe not.

At some point the free services that the indies who give away their work rely on will no longer be free. Today YouTube is the radio. Anyone wanting to keep up in the arms race of art competition (with each other; the audience is passive) has to be able to make videos on the cheap or otherwise. Fortunately, it isn't that hard and like other tools, costs are down considerably even as skills have to catch up.

Yet like it or not, the term is 'hypermedia' not hypermedium and there are costs to producing at that level of complexity that can't be dismissed as easily as "we give away our CDs" because while one doesn't have to manufacture, one is still having to climb the complexity curve. Frankly, most bands and songwriters aren't up to the challenge.

Other costs will creep up. This will dry up a lot of what far too many rely on for entertainment sources. Having choked the life out of several industries, it will be Nebraska morning noon and night for about a decade as those with access to capital realign among themselves to control the distribution of the works of those who used these services to develop themselves during the 'everything should be free because that benefits me' period of internet market development.

Bono is right. It simply doesn't matter at the moment but he is right nonetheless. Unfortunately, he is talking to the wrong audience. He's arguing with the pig and as the old joke goes, the pig only gets irritated and he comes up smelling of sow. The people who need to understand where this is going ARE the artists and particularly the young ones just getting into what is left of the music business.


John Cowan said...

Today YouTube is the radio.

The thing is, the radio is still the radio after 90 years of commercial broadcasting: nobody has found a need to make radio listeners pay for what they hear. Google could monetize YouTube in the same way tomorrow. (I am neither confirming nor denying that it will do so, and I have no actual knowledge one way or another: I work for Google but emphatically don't speak for Google.)

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

Len Bullard said...

Hi John:

Happy New Year! I hope all is well with you and yours.

To the fray:

1. Satellite radio and cable radio are monetized and listeners do pay. Meanwhile, with the talk radio taking over more of the spectrum that used to be music, it isn't bleak but it isn't the rich media it was. Further, with the web taking the royalties from the songwriters, the artists will have to adapt or creativity is taking a hit. No smart person wants a career that promises poverty as th pay off.

2. I'm just noting that the new generation of artists is relying heavily on free-to-post services that if they had to pay for would pretty much wipe them out. Access to capital is THE big problem of the new start.

3. We see the new Vivo channel which is still free to listen to but highly filtered. This is the A-list reasserting its power and claiming a greater share of the ad revenues. Google is partnering and that may cast a shadow on the public-to-post YouTube future. It may not. It's hard to figure the payoff for maintaining public-to-post. User generated content may not be quite the business some thought.

The change I feel is coming is a) Geeks are no longer cool. Their rants on comment pages such as that CNet page reveal they have little of nothing to contribute to a discussion of the future of content-based industry. b) Artists have to step up to the production complexity of video-enscribed multimedia in a way they didn't when the labels took care of all of that for them. If a song isn't accessible on YouTube in some form, it doesn't exist unless a lot of money is pushed into even more expensive media awareness enhancers.

One thing is dramatically clear: combining social networks and YouTube works for the indies as little else has. I may post more about that later.

John Cowan said...

There are a lot of things that used to depend on access to capital but now don't: publishing is just the obvious one. A friend of mine makes a living doing personalized Web crawls. Want to find Web pages matching some criterion too hairy for Google, or want to find all matching pages, not just 1000 of them? Pay the man and he'll do it for you; rates negotiable. He uses Amazon EC2 machines to do the crawls and Amazon S3 to store the intermediate and final results, which are not free but don't incur capital costs. If he'd had to pay up front for his own server farm and then pay for a staff to keep it running, he couldn't have started the business so frictionlessly: as it stands, he had the idea on Monday, wrote the crawl software on Tuesday (well, not really) and was open for business on Wednesday.

Len Bullard said...

Publishing doesn't. Advertising does. The fun for me is to do things cheaply because well, I've no other choice. When I look at my stats over at youtube, facebook, without much effort beyond keeping things organized, increased downloads by around 400%.

My God, if I had a Twitter following, I could send even more hits to YT that I won't get paid for. Whatta deal!!

I'm kidding. I don't try to make money from it so I don't. But if I did I'd be worrying a whole lot for not a lot of money. OTOH, as T-Bone Burnett pointed out to me over at Taplin's blog, buy a good really good limiter and understand where the capital goes. As I said, I'm a fan of doing it on the cheap but I do realize the costs of the A-listers.

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