I wonder if even the visionaries at Apple know the depth of the revolution they have unleashed. In much the same way Desktop publishing dramatically revolutionized the printing industry and the advent of the true internet has revolutionized publishing, I think we are just on the cusp of a new paradigm of broadcasting via podcast and vodcast that will feature the elimination of the broadcasting elite in much the same way newspapers and magazines have been decimated by online print publishing and music companies are being made less and less relevant as music, too, moves online. For good and ill, the gatekeepers are falling away and information of all kinds, is becoming cheaper for consumers and potentially more profitable for the creators because the middlemen are being squeezed out.
Unlike many, and this reflects the Econ half of my majors in college), I don’t begrudge the music and publishing industries their profits and the very necessary gatekeeping they had to do in the past. Take the music industry, for instance, often the object of vitriol because they blocked so many talented musicians in favor of less-talented but more salable acts, and paid less than what was desired for the ones they did take on. No question that the industry attracted its share of unscrupulous and nasty participants but from a business point of view, they had to act like that. If they didn’t, less music would have been produced and many of those who got something would have gotten nothing. If you have to risk big bucks for five or ten acts for every one thats a hit, you have to play it safer. Remember, in the good old days before the internet, you had to spend tens of thousands printing a first run of cds that might or might not sell, you had to spend money to distribute these cds to influential people, put ads in magazines, book your acts on radio, tv or concerts just to get a few people to hear your act. Just as in graphic design and programming, the business sense of musical artists themselves, often leaves much to be desired.
But now, with music being downloaded rather than printed to cd and bought in stores, advertising and exposure being pushed electronically internationally and for very modest costs, more music is available to us from more sources. Niche markets, like the kind of weird stuff I like, can be satisfied because it doesn’t cost huge fortunes and require huge markets to pay for a new artist. (Check out Emilie Autumn at www.emilieautumn.com for a taste of my newest love. A classical violinist turned way out Alt with some absolutely incredible harmonies and lyrics.)
This same calculation is changing broadcasting with podcasts and vodcast, publishing with internet sites and podcast audiobooks, news production with blogs and online news sources and columnists. I don’t think it is yet clear how the new pay structures are going to fall out but I think it is clear that the middlemen, the gatekeepers and the big printing and production houses are all going to be squeezed way thinner than they currently are. While I do financially support a few of the free sites I visit, I don’t believe the beggar model will work any better for internet publishing and broadcasting than it does for PBS. I think, at this point, a lot more stuff will be free as loss leaders and more and more of the internet will be supported by advertising and sponsors with subscription services taking a distant third for more specialized content. But even this will be democratized further because nothing will cost as much as it used to to produce so more choice of sponsors and advertisers will be available, you won’t have to bend or dilute your message for your sponsors, you just find sponsors who don’t need to have you change your message.
To conclude this wide-ranging ramble, I guess I just have to say that it keeps amazing me how dramatic a change that the lowering of the cost of information is having our lives and how, it seems to me, that this means a dramatic democratization of both news, knowledge and entertainment. The bad news is that the gatekeepers are going, and a lot more schlock and dross will be out there but the good news is the gatekeepers are going and everyone has a chance to participate.