More Evidence That Obscurity Is A Bigger Threat To Content Creators Than Piracy

from the gotta-get-yourself-out-there dept

There’s an interesting, if not altogether surprising, article written by a professor who recently did a study on “cumulative advantage” which suggests, effectively, that popularity begets more popularity. On its own, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. We all know that once something starts to get popular, word of mouth discussions and just the fact that people tend to hear or see that thing more often tends to expand the market even further. The study done by the researchers suggests that there’s quite a bit of randomness involved. They found that hit songs tend to become hits almost by accident (which probably won’t make the folks at Hit Song Science very happy). Basically, once a song catches on, it tends to snowball into popularity — whether or not it’s actually any good. As the author notes, this has many different implications.

One implication that isn’t discussed in the article is that this actually supports the idea that giving away content for promotional purposes is a very important strategy in developing a brand. The results of the study suggest that obscurity is a major force in killing the prospects of just about any creative work — and the real trick is to promote the hell out of content until it starts to catch on. So, if you’re trying to grab attention, why not give away the content to build up the name and make it easier for the content to gain the necessary popularity to hit that tipping point where popularity snowballs? At that point, plenty of new business models are apparent, because now, as the creator of a “hit” you’re in demand, and there’s only so much of you to go around (basically, access to the hitmaker is a scarce resource, while the content the hitmaker makes is not).

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Comments on “More Evidence That Obscurity Is A Bigger Threat To Content Creators Than Piracy”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem with this flawed line of reasoning is that it assumes that future content production will be equally popular. The long list of one-hit wonders in just about every category of content creation shows this to be a lie.

How does it make that assumption? I was not making that assumption at all. This still works in the case of one hit wonders. The point is that they need to focus on selling something else (something scarce) such as concerts or merchandise or access to the band.

fentex says:

One hit wonders

Captain Obvious makes a valid point; if the hit in question is a thow-away one hit wonder there may very well be no demand created beyond the original hit – which once distributed free generates no revenue or profit at all for the hitmaker.

But that doesn’t matter much because it would only count as an ‘almost success’ for someone seeking profit and not the ‘failed success’ (if you get my meaning) Captain Obvious sees as a flaw. Obviously success involves creating a demand beyond the material released free for promotion.

The one hit wonder that makes no income is just a slightly more widely experienced failure to succeed in generating income.

fuse5k says:

one hit wonders

You do make a good point about one hit wonders,

However, the problem i would see by this is that they never gave the content away for free, possibly if they had they would never have been popular at all.

the reason why one hit wonders happen is because the record company doesnt give as much marketing push to the second single, this coupled with the fact that the second single will never be as good as the first (who puts out their 2nd strongest song to try to push the band from obscurity)

There obviously has to be quality involved… its not like i can make a song in 5 minutes then , simply because im giving the song away for free im a megastar…

thats the one little thing i dislike about TD… some of the people who post here wont take a step back and look at the problem from a neutral stance…(that and all the riaa stories)

Hank (user link) says:

Working at a company that gives away CC2.5 licensed, language podcasts as a loss-leader, while charging for three levels of subscription, I can fully attest to the importance of removing any possible barriers to getting consumers into and promoting your content.

But does ‘free’ become commoditized over time? If the thinking is that people are more likely to tell their friends about a free product that consumers are typically accustomed to paying for (classic example of Skype), does ‘free’ as a strategy become less relevant when everyone is doing it and consumers begin to expect it?

We currently give away our lesson MP3’s, but do charge for lesson review. If a competitor emerged giving away the same MP3’s, we would be tempted to give away a little more to differentiate ourselves. Living and working in Shanghai, I am very familiar with this model, as it is very similar to the common strategy here of only competing on price (often even below marginal cost!).

Isn’t there an element of a race to the bottom here?

Jake says:

Free is a very powerful sampling motivator...

Giving away a song for free is a very powerful sampling motivator and in an era where the most precious commodity in the world is a customer’s attention, it may be the critical factor in kick-starting cumulative advantage. Additionally, free music sampling over the web drives huge potential exposure which can be another factor in building cumulative advantage for content.
I think what is happening is that the record companies are just being very conservative about how they set up their new economic chains given the recent technology upheaval. At some point they will use free marketing to promote their products, but they want to damn sure they have a complete understanding of the market dynamics. The entertainment industry is well-known for its conservatism. Unfortunately, this rankles many of the technologists who want to be able to dictate the terms of how this media revolution will play out.
Should be interesting to watch!

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