It's been said many times that content wants to be free. Or perhaps it's really that we want content to be free.
Parents who lecture their children on not downloading illegal content are themselves tapping the mute or TiVo fast-forward buttons during commercials, thereby robbing advertisers of some part of the audience they're buying. That describes my house pretty well. Voluntary payments don't work very well either. We pubcasters say that some nine in ten listeners or viewers do not contribute in a given year -- but actually that over-estimates the contributing percentage because the denominator is taken from weekly cume, while annual cume is a much greater number.
We've seen anti-DRM sentiments become an ideology among an influential segment of Internet and DVR users. Mainstream file-sharers and commercial-skippers all have some personal justification for what they do: Like, commercials are annoying -- time is precious and skipping saves me 20 minutes an hour -- record companies rip off their artists anyway -- the RIAA and MPAA are bullies -- I've already paid for it here, but want to use it there and their stupid DRM won't let me do that. Young people generally just hear "blah-blah-blah" when parents warn about downloading movies or music. You might as well be speaking Latvian.
Are people who pay for content just chumps?
If so, there are a lot of content professionals who are depending on those chumps to make a living -- a very few make a very nice living. Unlike Andrew Keen, I think it's wonderful that amateur content can now be distributed so easily and I'm doing whatever I can to encourage that. But for those of us in the content business, a way of encouraging both wide distribution and discovery of amateur content and at the same time providing an economic base for excellent professional content is the central problem of our industry today.
The best thing I've read in a long time from a content creator's point of view comes from singer-songwriter Jill Sobule -- though, frankly, I'd not heard of her before this. She's a professional, but like all professionals, her work needs discovery also. In an essay titled, Calling All Recording Gurus: I've Got Nothing to Prove, but I Still Need Your Help (See My Video!), she writes of the dilemma for artists like her:
... None of my musician friends are mourning the demise of the record industry. Most of us got crummy deals anyway and never saw a penny of royalties. My nephews expect really expensive birthday gifts from me, as they think that I must be rolling in dough, having been on MTV a few times. I always acquiesce, not wanting to tell them the truth. ¶ For us, in this YouTube, long-tail, Kara-and-Walt world, it’s an exciting time. But it’s also confusing. How do I release my next recordings? Do I still put out a CD in the traditional way, or just go digital? Do I send demos one last time to the remaining majors or go indie (this time with a company that lasts longer than a year) and get a, say, 50/50 deal? Do I just finance the whole thing myself–musicians, studio, marketing, publicist, radio, promo, video, etc.? And where do I get the money? How do I pay the rent? How do I support my gambling and morphine habits? ...