Another day, another muppet claiming to have replaced the music industry. This time it’s Vikram Kumar, CEO of Mega, the new cloud storage dreamt up by the self-proclaimed artist rights champion, Kim Dotcom (currently fighting extradition to the US where he faces charges on copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering). Talking to Billboard, Kumar announced that yet-to-be-launched MegaBox and MegaVideo will provide a platform for “content creators to go straight to people and bypass the traditional distribution chain”.
“We’re really interested in content creators going direct to people,” he continues. “This is quite distinct from the recording industry or the film industry, which tend to represent the distributors. Those people are still very much using outdated business models […] When content owners start looking at the internet as an important way to make money, then we’ll see this conflict [between Hollywood and Silicon Valley] reduce quite a bit.”
First of all, as Billboard is largely geared towards people working in the music industry, readers may ponder if services such as YouTube, SoundCloud and Bandcamp have completely bypassed Kumar. There’s hardly a shortage of avenues artists can take to get straight to their fans – some of them even allow the artist to control how their music is used, make money off it and develop a stronger connection with those fans.
Secondly, these music industry workers might wonder what Kumar thinks they’re doing all day. Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning didn’t come up with a way of replacing the music industry with Napster – more like a way to replace the trucks (it’s debatable if they replaced the record stores, as it didn’t include a way for fans to pay artists for their “content”).
It didn’t even replace distribution companies. The vast majority of indie labels have never handled their own distribution. Sure, what distributors do has somewhat changed, but even self-releasing artists use digital distributors, such as Record Union, to place their music on a wide range of digital music outlets. And, to make sure they’re properly accounted to when it’s streamed on services such as Spotify and Deezer. Perhaps Kumar should have a look at An In-Depth Look At How Distributors Work.
Kumar argues “the very nature of copyright was based on controlling the creation of copies […] The internet allows for the creation of digital copies at almost no cost. These are the legacy business models of physical distribution, which haven’t adapted to digital internet distribution.”
Here Kumar also ignores the use of copyright in performance and synch licensing. In Kumar’s world it appears radio stations only had to pay for a CD in order to broadcast it over and over again for free, and advertising agencies used whatever music they liked for free in their ads. These companies have never made multiple physical copies, but they’ve made multiple use of the one copy supplied to them – and paid for those uses.
Copyright without control, without the ability to say no, creates a race to the bottom as far as being able to monetise “content” – it lines the pockets of the distributors (YouTube, The Pirate Bay et. al.) but not those who created it.
Kumar reminds me of “internet intellectual” Clay Shirky, who said: “Publishing is going away. Because the word ‘publishing’ means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says ‘publish’, and when you press it, it’s done.”
Anyone who has pressed that “publish” button only to see their work drown in the white noise of the millions of other people pressing that button at the same time, could see the value of an experienced publisher.
Maybe that’s why Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, signed a deal with Random House – the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world – to publish his upcoming book, The New Digital Age (hardcover $26.95 in the US, Kindle version £12.99 on Amazon UK). The authors who sued his company for scanning their books without permission may ask why he didn’t just make it available via Google for free – perhaps with some Google AdSense ads next to it.
It’s clear, even to Schmidt, that “the new digital age” has not made publishers obsolete.