It's the content, stupid

Whatever Napster's state when you read this, there seems to be a universal regard by commentators that things will never be the same. They are saying
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Whatever Napster's state when you read this, there seems to be a universal regard by commentators that things will never be the same. They are saying this is another genie that cannot be put back into the bottle, and the bottle is smashed. In a way it is a relief. The world is waking up to what is happening around us.

With or without Napster, music is going to be shared on the Internet. In a short while (18 months, perhaps) the same phenomenon is going to be pervasive with high-quality video. It will probably start, as the audio transactions started, with college students swapping music videos. Why do they do this? Do they deliberately breach copyright laws? Although it started with just sharing, most realize that there is something not quite right about what they are doing. For the majority, though, it seems to be about value.

When a music publisher wants $18 for a CD that contains only one song of interest to a listener and that same track can be downloaded as a free MP3 file, what is the average person going to do? While the recording industry continues to defend a faulty distribution system, others will bypass it. This is nothing new from me: it's the content, not the medium of transport, that needs to be protected.

The industry needs to embrace electronic delivery. It needs to offer, at fair prices, downloadable music. At the right price people will not steal copyrighted material at anything like the same rates. Yes, it will always happen because there will be people who get their kicks that way, but there would be no organized theft because there would be no revenue streams to support the infrastructure. We have already seen this borne out in the VHS market, where the people who have always and will always illegally copy videotapes make but a negligible dent in the pre-recorded tape market.

The value of content is everywhere. This trade publication appears free of charge to you, in your mailbox, courtesy of the revenue provided by the advertisers. The magazine space rep - who sells that advertising space - should have only one clear message for potential advertisers as to why they should participate: the magazine produces editorial content that is of high interest to qualified readers, an audience that is also appropriate for the advertiser's message. The same is true of any printed magazine or newspaper, even when distribution is partially supported by subscription. If the content is not of interest to the readers, they will not read.

The argument can be extended to TV. If you really wanted to boost HDTV then you would focus on content. For the sports buff, Monday Night Football or college basketball available only in HDTV would considerably speed up implementation. The fact that this has not happened, and is not going to happen, does not indicate that the network heads don't recognize this fact, and it is not because they are unsure about making the gamble. It is because HDTV is a delivery medium that they are not ready to embrace.

Ads are everywhere Over the last few years we have been subjected to advertising in increasingly annoying ways, particularly on the Internet. I find flashing banner ads on websites extremely vexing. The use of Java, cookies and even applications like Shockwave is a major deterrent to the repetition of my business. I visit for content, not flashiness.

We have had similar insults hurled at us on VHS recordings. And here these commercials are rendered even sillier by the fact they quickly age. Do the moviemakers think that a buyer of a pre-recorded videotape does so just to enjoy the movie once? At least we have the fast forward control so we can evade most of this.

This morning my daughter asked to watch a DVD. For the first time that I have seen, on this recently-acquired disc, there were trailers for other titles. The same "prohibited action" message that comes up if you try to skip the Federal or copying notices comes up on these trailers. This is abuse indeed. It is clearly the intent of the producers that you will be subjected to this material. (Although there is in fact a way to avoid this.) That DVD was purchased for the content on the label, not the content thrust at us.

What will happen to the producers of that DVD when a video version of Napster appears in a couple of years, offering the content I wanted in the first place without the objectionable add-ons? We'll be in the courts all over again ... unless the moviemakers do what the recording industry has so far failed to do: embrace the Internet, now, withreal content at reasonable prices.

It's all about content.