Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dominating through delivery

Put a person in front of a computer, or put a decent phone in their hand, and they have access to a mindblowing universe of content. Because it is now so readily available, it is increasingly clear that part of what makes content wonderful is its diversity. From Amy Winehouse's new single to Uncharted 3, and from Ansel Adam's classic photos to some guy torturing cheese, there's an amazing range of stuff just a couple of clicks away.

So us humans like things to be nice and simple and well categorised, right (or is that just me?). There's a fairly clearly defined, simple set of types of content, even though what gets filed under those types is so fantastically wide-ranging and exciting. These types aren't definitive, but when a whole new type of content emerges it tends to rock our worlds pretty fundamentally.

Here they are. These are the ones with a lot of attention and therefore, one way or another, a lot of revenue attached to them.

Types of digital content:

They all follow the same pattern. They are treasured by their audiences. They are deeply specialised, and, largely thanks to the Internet, they are also impressively democratised too. In each case, no matter how complicated or even impossible it would have been just a few years ago, the tools are now readily available to create and publish your own contributions in each one of these categories (assuming that you have a computer). Sometimes the free world is a really great place to be (assuming that you have a computer).

The megacompanies have moved in

All well and good, but now something interesting is happening. The biggest companies on the Internet have noticed that these are the categories to fight over, and they are massively dominating the delivery mechanisms for each area of content. The big companies are now publishers, because that's where the money is. It's getting to be a little bit uncanny, and they've nearly completed their dominance. As this table shows, there's a few spots left which haven't been fully fought over yet, but we're nearly there.

Megacompanies dominate delivery

So what does this mean? There are a few scary implications here.
  1. Content producers are increasingly dependent on a limited number of publishers.
  2. Content naturally has to conform to the requirements of the publishers. Publishers aren't censors, but they need content producers to play their game to get noticed.
  3. If anyone else tries to become a publisher, they will be squeezed out by these mighty organisations.
I'm not saying any of this is dreadful. Sure, it does mean there's an awful lot of eggs in a very limited set of baskets. But those baskets are amazing places, and the people who own them are benevolent, right?

My main point is simply that the model is changing. To succeed as a content producer, you have to play the big boys' game. And to succeed as any kind of publisher, it seems like your best possible outcome is that you get bought by one of the megacompanies.

And if you try to produce something that doesn't immediately seem to fit into this eco-system, well, good luck to you!

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