Nice To See How Content Creators Have More Power Over Middlemen

from the it's-not-about-the-middlemen dept

We’ve talked a lot about how the role of middlemen is changing quite a bit these days. In the past, it was about them being gatekeepers. If you wanted to be a successful musician you had to sign a deal with one of a tiny number of big record labels. If you wanted to be a filmmaker you had to get a big studio to help you out. If you wanted to be an author, you had to sign a deal with a big publisher. And, since those middlemen acted as the only paths to success, they were able to dictate absolutely ridiculous terms. Just take, for example, the typical record label contract, which wasn’t just a “loan” or an “investment,” but them basically buying all of your copyrights and you still have to pay all of the money back from your earnings… but you don’t get the copyrights back after you do so. These were amazingly one-sided deals that totally put the middlemen in the power position.

What’s fascinating (and wonderful) to see today is how the changing marketplace means that the actual content creators are in control. This doesn’t mean the death of middlemen — not by a long shot. There’s still a huge role for middlemen to play — but it’s as enablers, not gatekeepers. In a world with enablers, the content creators are still the ones in control. The middlemen become supporting players. This is why I always find it funny when those who support the old system claim that they’re the ones “helping” creative types. But that’s clearly not the case. What they’re helping are the gatekeeper middlemen, who have done everything possible to pressure content creators into bad deals because they had no other choice. These days, thanks to the wider choices enabled by the internet, content creators are able to restack the pyramid and put themselves in control, with middlemen actually helping, rather than capturing all of the value.

We already wrote about Conan O’Brien’s embrace of social media in Fortune’s article about Conan 2.0, but there was another part of the article that I wanted to highlight in this post. And that’s the fact that the deal O’Brien signed with TBS is quite different than the traditional TV deal, in that it’s not TBS’s show that O’Brien appears on, but it’s O’Brien’s show… with TBS as a distribution partner. But O’Brien and his company really have all the control — including over the digital side of things. Even the video clips from his show don’t come from TBS or use a TBS video player. They’re all Team Coco.

O’Brien is in control of all the on-air creative and, just as important, all the digital use of his content. He and his production company Conaco own the show…. It’s the opposite of O’Brien’s setup at NBC, says Ross, a partner in the company. “Conaco owns the show, and TBS is a participant. At Tonight, NBC owned the show, and we were participants.” And ownership makes all the difference for O’Brien and his team.

Team Coco, not TBS, chooses which clips to use, edits them, and posts them. Preview clips from each night’s taping go up an hour before the show’s East Coast broadcast; within an hour after the show’s West Coast broadcast more than a half-dozen clips from that night’s show are posted on its site and Facebook, and linked to via Twitter; and the full show is viewable online the next day at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Last year at The Tonight Show Bleyaert had tried to get pre-show clips posted, but even that seemingly simple idea was difficult to execute because NBC.com ran the show’s site, and putting up such clips wasn’t part of its normal workflow process. “After the experience that we had at NBC, we wanted to be in control,” says O’Brien’s agent, Rosen. “We wanted the freedom to exploit our content.”

This reminds me of another story from a few years back about a band that announced a label had signed with them, rather than them signing with a label. It’s happening slowly, but the power positions are shifting and the fact that the gatekeeper role is less and less important, and the enabler role is more and more important, also means that the content creators themselves have more power. They no longer need to sign soul-crushing, abusively one-sided deals. Instead, they can sign deals that put them in control, where the middlemen are truly middlemen helping the content creator, rather than owning the content creator.

We’re really not there yet, for most content creators however. The old types of deals are still being signed. But I think we’re starting to see signs of that changing. It’ll take more time, but the good news is that the content creators are getting more leverage, just as the old middlemen are starting to lose their leverage. And the end result should be a lot better in the long run. The middlemen still have their role in the middle, rather than at the top of the pyramid.

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Comments on “Nice To See How Content Creators Have More Power Over Middlemen”

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26 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

The one thing about this new found power is that IP laws are still to strong and fragmentation of ownership will lead inevitably to economic arrest.

Is all good that gatekeepers that don’t produce anything are dying or having their power curtailed, but it is bad that now instead of one you will need to deal with millions of little greedy people that believe they own everything and anything resembling what they did is criminal activity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I would like to believe that but reality is not on your side on this one.

The Tragedy Of The Anticommons explains why that happens.

What is happening now is that big companies are loosing the power and ceding that power to smaller ones but the power is the same and will continue to harm others, so what you get is a lot of micro-labels kind of people who think exactly like the big labels and do exactly the same things but a thousand times and faster because they are distributed, they also cover a lot more ground geographically meaning they can exert that bad power fast and wide.

Is bad enough that we have big labels doing all this mess, now imagine a world where you have a hundreds of thousands of those people doing it, does that look good to you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Strong IP coupled with market fragmentation.

So either you reduce the IP scope or you limit the number of players.

But I’m only one person and I can only envisage so many scenarios, maybe there is more that I couldn’t think about it, still I believe in the end open philosophies will overcome those problems because they reduce the scope of IP laws and not the number of players, meaning things could and probably will get uglier before they get any better.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“now imagine a world where you have a hundreds of thousands of those people doing it, does that look good to you?”

Yes it does look good. It is called competition, welcome to the real world.

The premise of the wikipedia page doesn’t work when you have competing systems of IP. Like “Their copyright” and “Creative Commons”.

What the wikipedia article deals with is locked systems like the Big Content companies with their laws, collection societies, contracts, distribution deals, etc. Set up in a way to prevent any new players from disrupting the current PTB’s.

Think of what is going on from the perspective of the record labels being the store fronts after the fall of communism, and the way things are now being done as the open air kiosks.

kyle clements (profile) says:

moving middlemen

I don’t know if middlemen are necessarily disappearing, just shifting to other areas.

I recently self-published my first book through a print-on-demand service. These print-on-demand services are the new middlemen.

The relationship between us is far more balanced than those in the old model, but this balance comes with the loss of that built-in audience the old guys had.

They don’t push me on an audience, I have to do that part myself.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: moving middlemen

That’s exactly the kind of shift the article is talking about – the role of middlemen is changing from that of gatekeepers (e.g. publishers that pay authors, printers and editors) to enablers (e.g. authors paying a cut to print-on-demand services, directly employing freelance editors, etc).

The barrier to entry becomes building that initial audience and financing early efforts, rather than trying to gain the attention of the gatekeepers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: moving middlemen

But with that “shift” also comes the shift of responsiblity. The write is no longer just a writer, he has to do all the jobs a publisher would do as well. Plus print on demand places love this situation, because they can overcharge by the book, not have to hold inventory for shipping, and generally are dealing with people who are not business oriented.

You know all that money the publisher use to take, and everyone here thought they were greedy? That is nothing compared to what ends up happening in self publishing. The cost per book is way higher, distribution is extremely limited, and the market very small.

Really, it isn’t any different than the vanity press people of the past, except now you can order smaller numbers. The results are still the same, overpriced dead tree editions.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: moving middlemen

“…everyone here thought [traditional publishers] were greedy? That is nothing compared to what ends up happening in self publishing. The cost per book is way higher…”

I don’t think the reason for that is greed as much as it is limits of technology. They use very different printing methods.

Large-scale printing requires a huge investment upfront to manufacture the plates, but once that’s out of the way, then it’s only a few dollars to print each book.

Print-on-demand services do not share the same economies of scale. While there are no set up costs for each job, digital off-set printing simply costs more per unit.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: moving middlemen

“You know all that money the publisher use to take, and everyone here thought they were greedy? That is nothing compared to what ends up happening in self publishing. The cost per book is way higher, distribution is extremely limited, and the market very small.”

It boils down to the economies of scale. If you can automate the production of 1 million copies of a book. It will cost less than manually binding 1 million single copies.

Binnorie (user link) says:

I'm A New Middleman

This article is very relevant to me because I’ve been forging a career for myself as a middleman. I’m going to call myself a ‘new middleman’ because I watched friends and family get screwed big time by the old timers and don’t want to stoop as low. I tried to work as an artist for years, but began working for artists helping them get their work more well known and sold. I curate art shows and work with journalists to write about my artists. I get paid almost nothing to do all this and have to keep a day job. I hope that soon I’ll be able to make a small living doing this that I love.

One of my biggest problems is facing people who hate middlemen. Many assume that I must be taking advantage of my artists (none of whom I have exclusive contracts with) and thus make it difficult for me to ask for commissions lest I risk my reputation (most artists can’t afford to pay me a fee up front and feel more comfortable giving me incentive to sell their work). It’s not like this across the board, but I am walking on eggshells all the time.

How can the new middleman be seen in a better light? Am I being too careful??

**

On another note: Beyond Conan, check out Amanda Palmer and Kim Boekbinder’s music careers. They’ve both managed to get funding and donations (album art, places to stay, etc) from their fans from around the world to record their albums and videos. It’s great stuff!

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