Ramblings

by Mike Masnick


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Step One To Embracing A Lack Of Scarcity: Recognize What Market You're Really In

from the not-as-hard-as-you-think dept

This is my latest post in the ongoing series of posts about economics when scarcity is removed from certain items. Two weeks ago, in my post about the 17th century button makers and how they were quite like the RIAA in many ways got plenty of attention, and that kicked off a fun discussion. Many people (phew) saw the connection, but a few did not, and claimed that the situations were entirely different. The button makers, they claimed, were trying to stop anyone else from making buttons, while the RIAA has no problem with anyone else making music. Of course, this ignores the specific similarities (crying out for government help to defend a business model, treating customers like criminals, wanting to invade people's private homes, etc.) that were pointed out in the post -- but more importantly, it highlights one of the biggest problems that many who are in industries threatened by disappearing scarcity face: they don't actually understand the market they're in.

It's interesting to note that it wasn't horse-drawn carriage makers who became successful automobile companies. No, they ended up going out of business, because they too narrowly defined their markets as being the horse-drawn carriage market, rather than the road-based transportation market, or just the transportation market. Of course, that was something the railroad businesses could have claimed as well -- but they also were too narrowly focused on being in the railroad business (and, some say, were the inspiration behind passing certain anti-automobile laws early on in the automobile's history). The horse-drawn carriage makers, however, very much should have realized they were in the transportation market, and should have been always looking for ways to step up to provide better and better systems for local transportation. People weren't buying horse-drawn carriages because they were horse-drawn carriages, but because they could use them to more easily get somewhere. Thus, when automobiles hit the scene, the smart horse-drawn carriage maker wouldn't have looked at it as a threat, but as an opportunity to provide a better transportation system to his customers. But, that only works if he correctly defined the market.

In the case of the RIAA, contrary to the complaints in that button-maker post, they are not actually "making music." The musicians make the music, and the RIAA hardly represents the musicians. The RIAA is the "recording industry" and they represent the interests of the record labels who, while they may claim are in the music business, appear to believe they're really in the "music selling business" rather than (as they really are) the "music entertainment business." They believe their job is to distribute music, promote it, and get people to buy it. They make money by keeping that system closed and locked down. If they recognized they were really in the "entertaining people with music business" they should only be ecstatic about new technologies and services that make their job easier. In the case of file sharing systems, that was a tremendous new distribution and promotion system all rolled up in one -- and it cost them nothing. What a tremendous resource -- if they were actually in the music entertainment business and wanted to make it easier to promote and distribute music. They could leverage that infinitely available, free resource to promote and distribute music and musicians, and then use that to make money in other ways (concerts, sponsorships, endorsements, appearances, fan clubs, etc., etc., etc.,) But by limiting the definition of what business they were in by what their existing business model said they were selling, they chose to fight it.

The same is very much true of the MPAA, who represents the movie studios, and still seems to think they're in the business of selling movies. That's not true. People don't go out to the movies because it's "a movie." They go out to the movies to be entertained. They're in the entertainment business, and the industry is falling down miserably by making the movie going experience dreadful. They've taken the entertainment part out of the entertainment business as they focus so desperately on holding onto the "movie selling business" and in the process, they're finding it actually tougher to sell movies.

So, when it comes to the button-makers (who didn't realize they were in the clothing accessories business), it really is the same situation. The entertainment industry cartels aren't really fighting "competition." They're simply scared to death of the opportunity that's staring them in the face, because they think they're in a different business than they're actually in.


If you're looking to catch up on the posts in the series, I've listed them out below:

Economics Of Abundance Getting Some Well Deserved Attention
The Importance Of Zero In Destroying The Scarcity Myth Of Economics
The Economics Of Abundance Is Not A Moral Issue
A Lack Of Scarcity Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Piracy
A Lack Of Scarcity Feeds The Long Tail By Increasing The Pie
Why The Lack Of Scarcity In Economics Is Getting More Important Now
History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers
Infinity Is Your Friend In Economics

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  1. identicon
    Ethan Bauley, 25 Jan 2007 @ 1:08pm

    Step One...the only step?

    Nice one, Mike.

    I think this step is really the only one that anyone in these industries needs to take.

    There are any number of ways for a record label to redefine its market that will give birth to a viable long term strategy in the digital environment:

    - connect musicians to their audience
    - connect an audience to musicians
    - pr for musicians
    - marketing for musicians
    - administration for musicians
    - gatekeeper/tastemaker

    The list goes on and on. Seriously, it's not as hard as you think. I wonder if any of the big companies have the balls to do anything about this.

    Um, does anyone want to put me in charge of the EMI private equity takeover?

    ;-)

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