Just Because Content Is Free Doesn't Mean It's Worthless
from the let's-try-this-again dept
A few folks have asked me to comment on a recent post by Jonathan Handel, an entertainment industry lawyer, bemoaning the idea that content has become “worthless.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because he’s merely the latest in a long line of folks to confuse price and value. That’s unfortunate, too, because the piece starts off really solidly, with an extremely accurate understanding of the basic economics impacting the content industry. He notes, as we have time and time again here, the reason that price is getting driven to zero. His mistake, though, is equating price with value. He gets really close to recognizing this in his fifth point, where he notes that: “Computers, web services, and consumer electronic devices are more valuable when more content is available.” In other words, that content does have value, it’s just not reflected in the price (due to the infinite supply).
What’s really unfortunate, though, is he then comes to exactly the wrong conclusion out of all of this. Rather than recognizing that the fact that content increases the value of so many other things opens up a ton of new business models, he goes off and makes a bunch of statements that simply aren’t true about what’s happening in the content industry. First, he claims that there’s now less money to be made today in content creation. That’s simply untrue. There’s a lot more money being made in content creation than ever before — but it’s much more dispersed. It’s no longer all being made by a few big content companies. Then he says (and this is almost laughable): “Another effect is that the market for professional content is becoming more concentrated and less diverse.” That’s simply not true at all. The number of people producing content for money is larger than at any time in history.
The problem seems to be that Handel only considers content made by big content companies as legitimate professional content. This isn’t just elitist, it’s wrong. What these new models have done is created legitimate ways for totally new forms of professional (and, yes, it is professional) content creation. Professional content is coming from many sources these days, and while that may be a threat to the old infrastructure — it’s not a threat to professional content, which has actually become less concentrated and significantly more diverse. Anyone who thinks there’s less diverse content available these days isn’t looking very hard.
Finally, he claims, oddly, that “audiences are shifting more of their spending to hit properties” which pretty much goes against everything that most of us are seeing online with “the long tail” and such things. Since Handel seems to only define media as big media and assumes that all content that is free is “worthless” it’s no surprise that he’d ignore it in his calculation. But, the simple fact is that he’s wrong about what’s happening. Content may be becoming free, but that’s opening up tremendous value (which drives more content creations) and that content is coming from a much longer tail of diverse and varied content producers. It may be troublesome for the big entertainment infrastructure he’s used to dealing with, but it’s hardly bad for the real content industry.