Last year, responding to something written here at Techdirt, I got into an email argument with a law professor concerning whether or not the recording industry should be suing file sharers. Her argument was that without these lawsuits, musicians would be starving. She used the example of one particularly successful musician, who (she claimed) without having the industry sue on her behalf, would obviously be "flipping burgers in Kentucky." My response was, simply that there are thousands upon thousands of musicians who are flipping burgers (though, not all necessarily in Kentucky, and not all actually flipping the burgers, but you get the idea) rather than living up the good life with LA mansions and tabloid trash stories. The current business model of the industry is focused on just a very few hits. The industry even (recursively) uses this to justify what they do, claiming they take chances on a group of musicians, and only a few "pay off" by becoming superstars. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, is now explaining why that logic is not only faulty, but it's actually creating a smaller market for the industry. Looking carefully at statistics from a variety of sources that have thrived on content, he has written an article pointing out the value of "the long tail." Content sales take something of a power law structure, where the big winners are big winners, and everyone else just does so-so. However, by looking at companies that offer access to all those "so-so" offerings in the long tail, it's clear that, in aggregate, they can easily outsell the few "hits," and can do quite well in their own niches. For example: "The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles." Now, what new technology has done is to drop the production and distribution costs dramatically, to the point that "it's more expensive to evaluate than to release." In other words, the industry implies their value is in figuring out which content to make, release and promote. What this article points out is that it's cheaper to just get the content out there, and let everyone be the filter. That doesn't mean there isn't room for help with production or promotion (which does require some filtering), but a recognition that the economics of the entire industry changes for the better when there is no scarcity (artificial or real) in shelf-space.
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