One of the biggest and most common problems I have in discussing copyright is this notion that copyright and the solutions to the current situation online can be painted with a broad brush.
Many look at the success of projects like the Humble Indie Bundle and look at it as the savior for an entire industry. The same goes for Radiohead’s experiment with “In Rainbows” (though that may be a bad example).
On some level, this makes sense, if Trent Reznor can shun the record labels and release his music for free, why can’t other musicians? Likewise if, Minecraft can sell millions copies even as its creator makes it clear he isn’t worried about piracy, why can’t other video game developers do the same thing?
The obvious answer is that they can, but what isn’t obvious is that it doesn’t mean its the right move. While there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about new business and distribution models, that optimism has to be tempered with some sanity and reason.
After all, every content creator is different. While that means there are a lot of great opportunities, it also means that following in the footsteps of those who came before is not a sure-fire way to success.
Every Type of Content is Different
Ponder this: Do musicians face the same type of copyright challenges as photographers? Do moviemakers have the same copyright concerns as book publishers? Of course not.
The medium that a work is in changes it faces including the kinds of infringement it will likely see, how much of that infringement there will likely be and who will be doing the infringing. It also changes how a work is sold and how it is consumed, raising different business opportunities and challenges.
Though digital media has added some consistency (after all, everything is in bits now), there are still great differences in how content is sold, consumed and infringed. That alone makes much of the advice for one industry useless to another.
Every Creator is Different
However, even within the same industry there’s a lot of difference between the creators within it. Does an upstart band gigging in small clubs have the same worries as an established act already on a major arena tour? Does a novelist who just wrote their first book have the same concers as one who is working on their 20th bestseller? Definitely not.
Creators are in every stage of their career, from upstart to retirement. They range from well-known names to nobodies seeking to get noticed. Each creator has a different sets of needs and goals.
A system to meet the needs for one artist may be counter-productive for the one that’s next to them. You can’t tell an upstart metal band they need to obsess over piracy any more than you can tell Metallica they need to worry about getting their name out there. It simply doesn’t make sense.
Every Audience is Different
Should a children’s book author treat their work the same as a romance author? Do heavy metal acts have the same problems as folk acts? Does a pinup photographer have the same concerns as a landscape photographer? The answer, once again, is no.
Every artist is creating content for a particular audience and those audiences, whether broad or narrow, are different from each other. A book written for an elderly audience isn’t going to face the same challenges as one written for a tech audience.
Different audiences interact with content in different ways, this changes both how an artist can sell or otherwise profit from a work but also the copyright challenges it will face. This means an approach that goes well for one audience will likely flop with another.
The Common Themes
For all of the differences, there are a few common themes between all content creators. However, for the most part, they’re very broad points that don’t lend much developing a strategy that works.
- Turbulent Times: For everyone, these are strange times. The Web has changed the way people access and use content. While some are more vulnerable to others, everyone has to decide how digital media has changed their position.
- Rewarding Innovators: Across the board, people who take innovative approaches to the business models that surround their work. Those who try to follow the footsteps of others, usually, end up not doing as well.
- The Allure of Free: The allure of free didn’t start with the digital age but it certainly made it easier to tap into. Free things spread faster and, online, that can be almost instantaneous. Finding a way to integrate free into your product (though not necessarily giving everything away for free) can be a great start.
So what does this mean for you? Probably not much. But it can be a starting point for crafting your own strategy to navigate these murky waters.
In the end, it should be very clear that your situation is different from everyone else’s. Attmpting to copy someone else’s formula is not likely to yield much success as not only is it innovators who get the rewards but, more importantly, their strategy likely doesn’t apply to you.
That being said, there is a lot of reason to get excited. With digital distribution, the ways you can profit from your work are limited only by your imagination and copyright gives you the tools to control how your work is being used and exploit it the way you see as best fitting for you.
However, the conversation needs to slip away from the “silver bullet” business model ideas many love to throw around and focus on finding more narrow strategies that work well for individuals an companies. This is something I do as part of my consulting practice but I am also seeing more of on sites like Techdirt’s new Step 2 site, which encourages consumers and creators to discuss opening winning strategies.
Though I disagree with much of what Techdirt has to say on the issue of copyright, this exploration of business model ideas is an interesting one and one that I encourage.
After all, any solution is going to come from a combination of business creativity, technology and law. Without one, the other two are completely useless.