Putting money where our mouths are

The business that can't deliver the goods doesn't deserve to survive.

As Tim O’Reilly has pointed out, one of the major problems with SOPA and PIPA is that they regulate in favor of an “old economy,” and against the new. It’s sort of like the stage coach companies lobbying for regulations against the upstart railroads, and the railroads lobbying for regulation against the roads and airlines.

The problem isn’t “piracy” or “theft.” In fact, one of the big problems I have is the way the old media companies have been able to drive the language here. As Tim points out, piracy is “primarily the result of market failure” and ceases to be an issue when it’s possible for customers to get what they want on terms that they can accept. It’s about access, it’s about people being able to get the media they want and do what they want with it. In “ Scarcity is a Shitty Business Model,” Fred Wilson tells about being unable to find a good movie to watch at home on a weekend night: nothing good on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or the cable company. The end result is predictable: if the established means of distribution make it difficult for customers to get what they want, you can’t blame the customers. If we’ve learned anything from the Internet, it’s the business that can’t deliver the goods doesn’t deserve to survive.

Which begs a big question: If the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and their bedfellows are 20th century dinosaurs, when will we see the 21st century mammals that will replace them? We’re starting to see them now, particularly in music. Musicians have already been screwed badly by the music industry, and there are no small number of reasonably successful small musicians working on a “pay what you like” DRM-free basis. Businesses like Bandcamp allow artists to sell directly to their audiences, on a “name your price” basis. Bandcamp isn’t Sony Music, but it’s one of the new breed, one of the small mammals that will survive when the dinosaurs go extinct.

When will we see the same for the movie industry? Granted, making a movie requires a much bigger upfront investment. But it’s Hollywood’s lie that a move needs a multi-million-dollar budget. “The Blair Witch Project” was produced for around $60,000 but grossed $249 million. Wikipedia lists successful films with production budgets down to $7,000. But what we don’t have for low-budget films are studios willing to take the risk of dealing directly with customers, or companies like Bandcamp that aggregate independents’ offerings and distribute them directly to customers, cutting the obsolete 20th century distribution channels out of the loop.

In short, SOPA and PIPA are attempts by the MPAA to preserve an industry that has been fundamentally unchanged since the 1950s, if not the 40s. Who’s going to re-think video, in short (YouTube), medium (TV) and long (film) form, and other forms that we haven’t even conceived? The Internet has created more new industries than I can count. It’s time for the Internet to create the new industry that puts the old-time studios out of business. Who’s going to do that? It’s a huge opportunity.


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