I was excited about bitcoin because I saw its potential to disrupt currencies and payments.
Now I’m excited because I predict a vital role for blockchain technology in disrupting content distribution.
Centralization is a problem with currency and content.
It both causes and results from high startup costs. It breeds inefficiency and corruption. I saw it with currency and payments. But now I’m seeing it with content.
Blockchain technology is going to disrupt content before it disrupts currency, I predict, because payments are heavily regulated and fairly high-risk compared to content. Also normal people don’t feel enough pain from the current payment system to be motivated to switch.
The ad-for-content model is dying.
Publishers, those large, corporately owned gatekeeping behemoths, are dying. People used to get content in the form of newspapers, magazines, and books. It took a ton of capital to set up a content distribution operation that put content on paper and then delivered it to people’s houses. High startup costs insulated publishers from competition.
The web makes distributing content super cheap. New publishers spring up daily.
Along with them have sprung up entirely new models for creating and distributing content.
Publishers are dying because:
- Advertisers want more than just access to eyeballs.
- Consumers want to stop getting interrupted.
- Content creators want a bigger cut of the money.
Publishers don’t provide as much value to creators or advertisers as alternative models. Publishers are a classic case of the horrors of centralization. They’re inefficient and corrupt. They pretend there’s a wall between editorial and advertising. In reality they collect ad dollars and then dole out a tiny percentage to creators, and pretend that the ad dollars don’t affect which writers they work with and what they’re allowed to write.
Advertisers want more than just access to eyeballs.
Why buy access to a slew of anonymous, undifferentiated eyeballs when you can buy access to targeted audiences on Facebook? If I’m REI I’d rather only reach people who’ve stated an interest in camping than everyone who’s reading a camping story on TIME that went viral.
The only publishers that are profitable are those who own access to audiences advertisers deem valuable, like VICE and BuzzFeed.
Facebook might be trying to replace publishers, but they’re still operating on an improved version of a doomed model. Facebook and Twitter still operate under the interruption model. Give people content they want, and pay for it by interrupting their enjoyment of that content with content they wouldn’t look at otherwise.
Consumers want to stop getting interrupted.
Facebook and Twitter and Reddit are solving the problem of giving advertisers access to targeted audiences. Brands are wasting fewer dollars interrupting the wrong people. But they’re not solving the bigger problem, which is that no one wants to be interrupted, and they won’t be. Again, the reason the ad-for-content model has worked is technological. Blocking ads used to be more painful than the ads themselves. As ads are getting more painful, companies are developing easy ways to block them.
Content creators want a bigger cut of the money.
Content creators are feeling quite pained by current distribution models. Taylor Swift is pissed, though she doesn’t understand (or she understands but won’t admit) that her place in the music ecosystem is quite singular so her preferences aren’t really applicable to anyone else.
Artists who are successful enough to have audiences but not so successful that they’re wedded to old models are experimenting with new distribution. Imogen Heap is experimenting with music distribution on a blockchain. Amanda Palmer uses Patreon. I mean, fuck, Thom York called it in 2010. It’s books too. Penelope Trunk gave her publisher the advance back and self-published.
So that’s why people want a better model. But they also need a better model.
I am a big fan of sponsored content. I think brands should pay creators directly to create content that people actually want instead of funding content people want indirectly and interrupting people while they try to enjoy it. I mean that is my day job.
But that won’t solve the centralization problem. I got interested in Who Owns the Future because in it Jaron Lanier shits on one of my favorite inventions. The invention of a mechanism to turn data into money is, imho (in my ho opinion) on par with the wheel. Or at least the spinning wheel.
Facebook selling your data to advertisers made it profitable to connect people on a mass scale. I got friends and networks and groups and opportunities and invites to house parties and apps for literally nothing. As I go about my life, saying yes to invitations, liking pages, etc., it creates a digital trail that I have no use for otherwise. It costs me nothing for Facebook to suck it up and sell it, other than some psychic trauma that Starbucks knows what kind of coffee I drink.
The problem with the model, in Lanier’s eyes, is centralization. Sure, I can opt out of Facebook if they start doing something problematic with my data. But there’s really not a viable alternative that gives me anything like the utility of Facebook. A lack of competition is corrupting.
The other problem is that companies are loathe to pay for content and connections that undermine them or the power structure they thrive within. This was the most compelling of Lanier’s arguments against the data-for-content model. Corporate media is with rare exception corporatist. Nike will pay for your trail running tutorial. It won’t pay for your anarchist cookbook. Centralization breeds conformity.
That’s why we need crowdfunding and subscription models in addition to sponsored content.
These solutions, subscriptions, crowdfunding, and transparent direct corporate sponsorship, are going to involve blockchain technology because it makes distributing content and taking payment for it cheaper and more transparent.
Creators don’t need middlemen anymore to get money to create or to get their content in their audience’s hands. The removal of these middlemen is going to decentralize content. It’s going to make it cheaper, easier to acquire, and more profitable for creators. But most importantly, it’s going to help free it from the gates of corporate sponsorship under the farce of objective publishing.