Friday, August 29, 2014

Entertainment dinosaurs

This week has seen further developments in the ongoing fight between the 'old guard' in many sectors of the entertainment industry, and the 'new wave' of tech-savvy digital vendors and entrepreneurs who want to shake off the old restrictions and move with the technological tide.

We've all read about's fight with publishers over e-book pricing.  (If you'd like to know more about it in a nutshell, Engadget provides an informative overview.)  Print news media are struggling to stay alive, and have been doing so for a long time.  In a recent article, Clay Shirky put his finger on the reason for their decline.

Many people have lamented the unpredictability in the media environment occasioned by the arrival of digital devices and networks, but the slow implosion of newspapers has been widely and correctly predicted for some time now. Print ad revenues have fallen 65% in a decade, 2013 saw the lowest ever recorded, and 2014 will be worse.

. . .

Do you see anything unclear about the trend line?

There's much more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Now the music industry is crying foul.  This week it was reported:

The record industry has just had its worst week in decades. For the first time since Nielsen SoundScan began keeping track in 1991, album sales failed to reach the four-million-sold mark this week, totaling just 3.97 million.

. . .

The music industry has struggled in recent years as consumers have shifted from physical CDs to MP3s, but even the digital side has been hit hard in 2014: Digital album sales are down 11.7 percent for the year, and à la carte downloads are down another 12.8 percent according to Billboard. Illegal downloading has no doubt eroded much of those digital sales, but it’s the emergence of legal streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora that has also chipped away at overall sales.

Again, more at the link.

I suggest that there's a very simple explanation for all of the reports mentioned above:  the ubiquitous smartphone.  It's become the single most important device in many people's lives.  Just look at the number of people using smartphones to talk, text-message, read books, watch video clips (not just short ones, but even full movies), listen to music, and so on.  They're all around you in most cities.  As far as books and publishing are concerned, Amazon spotted this trend early and provided high-quality apps to allow its customers to read Kindle e-books, watch Amazon streaming video, and play Amazon digital music on their smartphones.  Others in the industry were slower to catch on, and now they're having to catch up - but many consumers won't wait for them to do so.  They've already voted with their wallets for the early adopters, who are off and running with the crowd.

I've noticed the impact in my own life.  I now read more books on my smartphone than I do on an e-reader or on my computer (I bought a 'phablet' smartphone with a larger screen for that reason).  I don't yet listen to music on my smartphone, but Miss D. does so most mornings as she gets dressed.  She uses it at work to take pictures of things other managers need to see, and sends them straight to their addressees without delays or intermediate processing.  When she and I are on the road, we don't use in-car navigation systems - our smartphones suffice.

The entertainment industry hasn't adapted to the single-device society.  It's still producing TV programs for evening viewing on a larger screen, and movies for the theater, and music to be sold by the album rather than the track, and books for those who like to turn physical pages, and so on.  More to the point, the various segments of the industry (e.g. music, books, movies, etc.) haven't yet woken up to the fact that they're all basically in the same industry, entertainment;  and they're all competing against each other for the consumer's entertainment dollar.  There's no reason why he should buy a book or a movie ticket if there's something else that will be more entertaining for less money.

The advent of digital technology has changed everything, and opened doors to all of us to produce as well as consume entertainment.  That's why I'm able to make a living as a writer - I don't have to beg, plead and grovel to traditional publishing gatekeepers for admittance to the market.  My work will stand or fall on its own merits, and I can price it to sell rather than having to make obscene profit percentages to support a bunch of staff and functions over and above the author.  Readers can judge for themselves whether my work's any good, and they, rather than traditional gatekeepers, will decide whether or not I'll succeed.

One wonders how long the dinosaurs of the entertainment industry can survive, given the apparent refusal of so many of them to adapt to a changing world.



Coconut said...

Might as could be music that costs far more than it's worth has something to do with that.

Non-mainstream places tend to be a little more realistic with their costs.

Especially since a lot of people throw out about half the songs in an album anyway.

Richard Blaine said...

It's curious for sure.

I get the convenience of a smartphone, I bought mine in 09. I don't use it nearly as much as a lot of people.

I have a real music player - plays lossless FLAC in high res, even DSD (Super Audio CD format)

Neil Young raised over 6M on kickstarted (asked for 80K) to launch the pono High Res music Player. Because he thought the state of music - iTunes downloaded mp3's was defeating the whole point of music. I happen to agree.

I won't listen to MP3's, they sound harsh. Pop music is coming under fire from several quarters for it's tendency to maximize Loudness at the expense of quality. (search for Loudness War)

There are now a number of sites were you can get hi res downloads (CD quality is 44.1Khz with a bit depth of 16. Tests I've seen indicate that going to 24bits is probably not a huge advantage, people with very good equipment and well trained ears can hear the difference but most can't. But upping the sample rate helps. Put dozen recording engineers in a room and play music - their choice?
Analog TAPE, then DSD digital, then everything else - MP3? Not even on the list.

Does 4-5$ a song seem like a lot? that's 24-50 for an album. But if you love music and you're tired of listening to the overly compressed, harsh, junk they've been pushing for years - there's hope. Even if you're not will to spend the big bucks for the extra 10-15%. A standard 44.1/16 download of a high quality recording will surprise you if you've spent the last 20 years listening to POP/Rock CD's or worse, MP3's - Some jazz get's recorded badly, classical tends to be well engineered.

Who knows maybe a quality revolution will save the music business. Quality used to be important, maybe it always has been, it was just forgotten for awhile.

Old NFO said...

The dinosaurs are sinking fast... And they will not adapt until it's too late... Another 'part' of the issue was the whole bitorrent download thing. Sadly I can't hear well enough to enjoy music anymore.

Will said...

One heavy impact on newspaper income was the creation of Craigslist. Their classified ads revenue virtually disappeared. I chuckle whenever I think about a socialist web group destroying one of the voices of the left.

Anonymous said...

The birth of my children and the passage of time have made it VERY clear to me how limited my time is.

24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and an unknown number of weeks still to go. Same as everyone else, but now I understand in a way I didn't before, that I'm only going to get so many of those weeks.

I used to believe that I would "get around to it" and have the time to do every thing I wanted. I could read a book tonight, and play video games some other night, while still having time to take care of the house and family. Now I know, that every thing I choose to do, RIGHT NOW, affects what I have the opportunity to do later.

In other words, if I choose to read book, I'm choosing to NOT play a game. Ditto with watching TV or a movie. I'm trading one activity for another, not merely delaying the other activity until a later time. This is a profound change for me.

I also recognize that the mix of activities will change. Right now, family and household activities dominate, with reading filling the discretionary time. I haven't played a game in years (other than 'casual gaming' on tablets and phones, usually with a social component.) After retirement, or when the kids are away at school, that might change again.

The bigger point I'm struggling to make is that people's lives are filled with more activities (and different ones- lodge meeting anyone?) We have smaller chunks of time left for entertainment. Companies that recognize the change in HOW we use our time will succeed. Witness the rise of casual gaming, web surfing, and ebooks, Tivo and streaming. All things we can do on OUR schedule, in small chunks if needed.

I think about my life and I can't imagine some of the things I used to do with my time. How about watching all the Starwars films in a row, or the whole Godfather series? Or even spending 4 hours at the movies watching a double feature? I used to sit down and read a book cover to cover in one un-interrupted sitting. Or spend hours playing a video game, night after night. There were days, when I was single and between projects, that I would read one book in the morning, watch a movie, then read another book that night. Some people can spend hours at a sporting event (but few go every week) but even then, they are filling in the down times with activities on their smart phones. When was the last time someone sat down with a Sunday paper and read it all the way thru? Or sat with headphones on and listened to a whole album?

So, if you want to make money in entertainment, make sure people can get your product in small chunks, when-ever and where-ever they have the opportunity to consume it.


Anonymous said...

[Had to break up my comment, I exceeded 4096 characters- so much for my point about small chunks :{ ]

For authors, ebooks with correct formatting (so they display on a phone screen as well as a reader screen), sync that works, and (possibly) shorter chapters are keys to success. A style where the story is told in distinct chunks, and doesn't have too many similar or confusing elements (too much work to keep straight who the players are if you have to put the book down for a few days or a week) will certainly help. For an example of a very good author and book, who is NONE of these things, see Peter Hamilton's Neutronium Alchemist. Or for that matter, any of his other multi-thousand page books. I'm glad I read them when I had the opportunity to read them straight thru. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be worth the effort with my current reading style. For an example that works, see Wen Spencer's Elfhome books and stories. Linked short stories, all set in the same universe, with bigger books providing the world building. My wife and I blew thru everything she wrote very quickly. If she was a different author, she might have taken 5 years to write a multi-volume single book to tell the stories, and I don't think that would work for our current situation as readers.

Obviously authors are different, and writing styles are different, but I think that some styles are a better fit for current consumption trends than others.


Anonymous said...

I find that audio books are my major entertainment expense now. I can listen to them via Audible on my smartphone playing through my car stereo on my commute, during lunch breaks, etc. and get my "reading" done during time that's otherwise wasted. I'll happily pay $10 for a 10-20 hour recorded book. Shorter books should be priced a little lower.