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The Battle For Content’s Value

The value of content has been under assault since the dawn of the Internet. The ability to get content for free online for the last nearly 20 years has let to a widespread culture that no longer finds content something worth exchanging for monies. Heck, some might argue the value of content as been under assault since the dawn of the written word. Written documents were not considered proof in a legal context in ancient Greece until the second half of the 4th century B.C.E.

 

Few things put this in more dramatic relief than the recent kerfuffle between Taylor Swift and Apple Music a couple of weeks ago. Apple Music was going to offer subscribers free access to their music library, and the artists’ whose music being offered up would not be compensated.

 

Artists were none too happy about it, and Taylor Swift, perhaps the most potent content producer today, taped out a few Tweets saying she would not abide, and within a few days, Apple said it would pay.

 

It is no mystery why Apple wouldn’t pay. Why pay for something if you don’t have to? That’s always been a desire, if not principle, of business. But it’s endemic of the modern view of content. Apple was just doing what it’s own customers would do if they could get away with it.

 

Content producers across a broad spectrum are confronted by the same penchant for “free.” There was a time when it wasn’t always this way. Not people because people wanted to pay. It’s just they were expected to, and did so. People want good content. And they’ll pay for it if they have to. But if they don’t have to, they won’t pay.

 

Advertising as a way to pay the bills in lieu of content consumers paying them has been the case for a long time. But until TV, consumers paid at least a little something for the content they consumed. Magazines were built that way, newspapers, too. With the Internet, all bets were kind of called off. So more and more advertising was put up. But that hasn’t been enough, as analog dollars were trading in for digital dimes. So then comes native, a kind of trick if you will, being played on content consumer and advertisers alike. The consumer is put in the position of mistaking the advertising for content, and the advertiser is led to believe that in doing so, the consumer will somehow be more open to the advertiser’s message.

 

This has led to what can in some instances be called misteps and at other times called ugly. A year ago, John Oliver had a wonderful segment on native advertising that shows just how bad it is.

To try to render content more monetizable in the absence of audiences paying, native advertising is being used as a solution. But this meant altering, or even eliminating, some of the structures that have been in place to make content valuable. A thing like the separation of the editorial church from the economic state is what has contributed to making content valuable. You see, monetizable is not the same as valuable.

 

The kinds of problems that arise from the degredation of this separation is what has contributed to the declination in content’s value. It was a problem readily avoided when producers of content maintained church/state separatism between the business and editorial. New York Times’s Innovation Report year ago included this wall as an ostensible barrier to innovation. This construct was there for a good reason. The era of unbridled media commercialism is in part ascendant only because content is perceived as being less valuable, and so in need of more monetization by means other than consumer payment.

 

Value of content… That’s the issue; not more methods of monetization. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, have yielded riches beyond the dreams of Avarice, with content that people are willing to pay for: a freaking musical!

 

There are of course different qualities of content that have greater or lesser values. But the abundance of all kinds of content has created more than just a little confusion in value vs. cost.  Even quality content is having a hard time realizing consumer surplus (the premium over market price).  This is in part because one of the objects or conditions the content is evaluated against is a volume of other content that is too great to asses. So we end up with other methods to foreshorten, short circuit — or avoid — the exchange process between content provider/creator and content consumer altogether by making the advertiser a more prominent agent in the exchange.  When that happens, you get things like this form of “native” advertising, or the kind of ham-handed placements in early reality TV (Doritos on Survivor; American Express on the short-lived but impossible to turn away The Restaurant).  It isn’t that advertisers haven’t always been one of the agents in the content marketplace, just that their role has come to matter more than that of the content consumer.

 

Which doesn’t bode well for advertising in general, let alone content purveyors.

 

Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.  – See more at: http://www.the-makegood.com/2015/06/23/millennials-meh/#sthash.VKWtK2zq.dpuf

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