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 Amazon.com'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.
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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.
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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.