or: The Cloud Model…Extrapolated
We here at Poppyc**k love technology, and have for years welcomed the idea that one day our future robot overlords will see us for the dangerous and unpredictable variable that we are and decide through complicated algorithms that the course of elimination or enslavement far outweighs the dangers of tolerating our wild behavior. This is an inevitable course of events that we have decided is the most probable end to our lives on this planet. In the meantime, we are seeing the first steps toward a Matrix-like world so eloquently illustrated in the first installment of the trilogy by Andy and Lana Wachowski (two and three were shit, let’s be honest). As the idea of ‘the cloud’ marches on toward an inevitable reality that consumes every nook and cranny of your life, the next step is one that is disconcerting for current models of business and life. Though there will always be a set of humanity bringing up the rear in adopting the next logical step, it will all eventually lead to the conclusion that digital material will one day replace all analog material in the mediums of film, music, video games, and beyond.
The shift has happened already as we try to reconcile a world of ones and zeroes with the physical world we have all known throughout our entire lives. Look at what we’ve seen in the last few years alone. We’ve seen the rise of subscription and free services spanning everything from news outlets to movie services and streaming music sites. We’ve seen the rise of iTunes moving not only music, but every film and TV show you can imagine. We’ve seen ‘smart’ TV’s and the rise of downloading services like Steam in the video game community. Some brick and mortar buildings have closed their doors from the Rocky Mountain News to now Blockbuster claiming bankruptcy and even some magazines seeking refuge in cutting hard copy printing all together and instead shifting to a completely digital business model. The signs all point toward the fact that one day, sooner rather than later, your only source for anything you want, will be viewed through the pixels on a screen, not on a page of any kind.
It all makes sense to me. Why continue with the crushing overhead of DVD’s, CD’s, paper, delivery, shipping costs, purchase orders, presses, employee work forces, and all the other issues that go along with distributing in the three-dimensional world? It is all cut down to near zero overhead when it goes digital. What it used to take thousands of people to accomplish from beginning to end of a process can now be accomplished by three guys jacked up like drug addicts in a dark room with no windows. Just plug those kids in and let ‘em code. Hell, they don’t even need health insurance plans; more savings!
So what is the new business model? What will the landscape look like once there is literally no ‘hard copies’ of anything? Well, I suggest we take a look at the three major industries I highlighted earlier. The three areas where this move will be easiest to make and the major changes that have already taken place. It’s like getting fat, it doesn’t happen overnight, but one day you realize after looking at an old photo, shit, how did it come to this?
There have been a lot of issues surrounding the music industry in the digital age, dating back to Napster’s unveiling (ask your parents, kids). The idea of property rights in a digital age really started here and this is where DRM questions really came to light. Well, if I own it, why can’t I share it digitally with a friend? When I bought CD’s I was allowed to let a friend listen, this is just like that, but on a scale of millions of people. Who really owns the music? I’m not selling it for money, I’m just sharing it with strangers. Where’s the harm? Someone bought it, since I am downloading it, they already got their money, but I just am borrowing it from someone I don’t know, where’s the harm? Well, it was decided there was harm and Napster went away for a while after lawsuits and…forget it, just watch The Social Network.
Now, after the crushing eye-opener that was the Napster business model, digital media is still pirated and illegally downloaded. Hell, if you’re really savvy you can get an album off the net weeks before it’s even released to the public; that’s a real digital pirate, right there. The model for music production and distribution has changed as the technology has improved. The great thing about today’s landscape is that, through social media and cheap music programs, anyone can make an album and distribute it across the world. Technology for the consumer has caught up with what used to take a multi-national label to achieve; and a fucking 14-year old boy in Iowa can have an EP online in a matter of days when his mom buys him a Mac and Fruity Loops for Christmas.
With the advent of technology finally trumping the once touted label powerhouses, small indie labels and truly independent artists have been carving out their corner of the net to the tune of real cash money through a completely digital product. They don’t actually make anything. After initial cost, the music they made and put up on the net for sale, which people will pay for, cost them nothing but time. Zero overhead! No one is taking a cut, there is no advertising blitz, press junkets, or CD release parties. They just tour performing shows and then eventually press ‘Enter’ and BAM, they have an album. There are so many avenues for personal promotion. From WordPress, to Facebook, to SoundCloud, to CD Baby, to iTunes, to Amazon.com, to privately hosted website and PayPal, there is a distribution network already set up for anyone with a beat machine and a crack pot pipe dream of producing their own music.
It doesn’t stop there. With free streaming mega giant, Pandora, you don’t even need to pay for music to hear it. It’s just like the radio, but it’s a radio that only plays what you want, and there are no annoying fucking crank calls to celebrities on the local morning drive show where assholes are supposedly entertaining you. Play some Goddamned music already! With Pandora, you pick the music you want on the station, and it will play that and anything else that preprogrammed algorithms think you will also like based on your tastes. Sure, a short commercial or two, but for a few bucks a month you can make that go away with the free station’s premium package.
Speaking of paid services of music libraries, how about that MusicUnlimited? Or maybe you might have heard of Spotify? Well, these are just the tip of the iceberg for accounts with limited listening for free, or for a reasonably affordable upgrade, you can have access to millions of songs without actually paying for any of them individually. This trend is three-fold. Down goes the old model, like Ortiz from a Mayweather cheap shot. Not buying albums anymore? Who gets the money? How does an artist make a living in the digital milk crates with all the other artists? The second fold is the terrifying realization that you will probably never stand out if you are nobody, and becoming somebody will be that much harder when no one is buying digital albums anymore, let alone hard copies out of the trunk of your car or at the merch booth after your set. How are the talented and unknown masses supposed to get your attention when people stop buying a new artist’s music SPECIFICALLY?If people are downloading tracks from an artist in particular, they are far less likely to draw an interest in that artist if they are just a part of the Spotify catalog. Third fold is the complete elimination of money going directly to an artist. When I buy music (I never pirate music) I am doing so because I love what that artist is making and I want to support people, groups, or musicians so I can continue to hear them create with the dollars I give them. I am directly supporting the cause for more good music to come out of that person. How much is going to them in the catalog subscription model? They are already touring in a van and eating Vienna Sausages out of a can. The shoe-string can’t take that kind of tension, friends. Do you want to see your favorite artists quit the game because they can’t make a living on the subscription model? I didn’t think so. Be weary. But I guess there is always Kickstarter…but that’s a WHOLE ‘nother article.
Films have seen so many advances in technology, and still employ so many of them it can make your head spin. From reel to reel still used in filmmaking and projection at movie theaters, all the way to 3D technology and digital editing and distribution in DVD and Blue Ray formats, this industry is still using just about everything it did at it’s advent at some point in the process. It is the oddest thing.
Want a real world example of how the industry is unable to make the full leap forward? The advent of the digital copy. Not only will they not relinquish complete control of the film’s rights through safeguards in copying movies to hard drives for streaming to iPads, mobile devices, and computers, they are now going to provide you with a copiable copy of the movie with the purchase of the film in DVD and/or Blue Ray format. Couldn’t we just do that with the one disc I already paid for? This is a losing business model. What if Henry Ford had rolled out a promotion of getting a free horse and buggy with every Model A sold? Maybe Verizon should throw in a free pager with every Android-powered phone they sell? One more example? OK. I can’t wait for my doctor to give me a free Leach treatment to get out all the ‘bad blood’ next time I get a flu shot. I mean, c’mon.
Movies have always been protected in usage rights. We’ve all seen the scary FBI warning before a film. Who can blame them? With movie costing hundreds of millions of dollars when you factor in promotion, advertising, production cost, buying a script, rewriting a script, screen testing, lawyers fees, actors pay, union pay, and on and on, it is a wonder movies even get made anymore. The investment up front is so huge and the cost of producing DVD’s on the back end (with more promotion), it is astronomical cost that is met with great venom if anyone beats the system and shares a film online or sells bootleg copies. (side note: movies are bootlegged but music is pirated? Why?) They sink so much liquid and borrowed capital into the production and release of a film that it can be catastrophic for a movie to be bootlegged even a few thousand times, let alone downloaded through Bit Torrent sites by millions.
Movies have also seen the fall of rental stores and the rise of Netflix. This is another shift in an industry not unlike that of music. A massive library of hundreds of thousands of TV shows and films to which you have 24-hour access. No longer do you buy a movie. You stream it or rent it through the mail service of Netflix; well, Quikster now, but that is a WHOLE ‘nother article to itself. Fuckin’ Netflix. Anyway, people are no longer buying movies at 20 to 40 bucks a pop. They are just renting as part of a service, or skipping hard copies all together and just streaming it to their TV through an online service. Sure, the quality of the video and audio depends on your internet connection and the availability of HD for any particular title, but the result remains the same: No one is buying the title outright at Best Buy.
Those that are buying movies specifically are the quickly dwindling folks on iTunes who want to buy a movie, or a season of a TV Shows. Yes, people are still buying movies. I don’t remember the last movie I bought. I think I got a used movie at a Blockbusters “80% off because we are fucked” sale a few years back. The titles online are cheaper than the actual hard copy version, and you do have the option of just renting the title. You can also watch the trailer for the film before you do either of those and even read peer-reviews of the film by those that think their shit smells like Roger fuckin’ Ebert’s (that’s me by the way, three reviews deep).
What can large production houses hope for, best case scenario? They still need to blast your face with advertising like their movie is a GOP candidate for President. There needs to be more advertising for this film than your brain can handle. They need big Hollywood names, and you gotta pay for that. You still need key grips, union guys, set designers, wardrobe people, craft services, extras, insurance, equipment that’s not getting any cheaper, special effects guys, stunt doubles, rooms of editors, interns, assistants, trailers, marketing guys, screen tests, script writers, and the rest of the world’s biggest enchilada. The best they can hope for is that streaming sites will be able to cut them in deeper on the pie and costs keep rising in those fees. You’re gonna cut out hard copies to only maybe 20% of DVD sales in the next five years. It will mostly be subscription services and digital downloads in HD. Oh, did I mention HD digital copies cost more than standard definition copies? Well, they gotta get you somehow, right? Since they can’t get you with the price of popcorn in your living room, you’ll pay for a clearer damned picture…the movie is better in HD, right? Picture quality has gotta be worth at least one more thumbs up from MovEENerd810.
Ah, one so near and dear to my heart we could write all day and night about this industry and never be done. This is my bread and butter, the jam on my toast, and the wiggle in my walk. Literally, I think I have a deformed tail bone from all my hours sitting in a chair with a controller and a bursting bladder waiting to pee until I reach the next checkpoint.
The gaming industry has always confused me. Well, not always, just in the last five years or so. Why are AAA-titles costing me 60 bucks a pop!? I know they cost a lot to make, but then again movies generally cost more…so what gives? The money invested and the man hours are on par with a film, but it costs three times the price for a copy of a game that costs less to make? I never got that. Where does all that money go? They always have multiple titles in development, on the shelves, or in my collection and you still charge me sixty dollars for a title? I never got that explained to me.
That said, this is a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down. Kids keep being born, and in this digital age, they’re not satisfied with sticks and cardboard boxes to play in, they want real entertainment. They want entertainment it took a team of a few hundred people two years and 60 million dollars to create. They want entertainment so vivid and visceral that movie producers and script writers are jumping ship and joining the gaming world pitching new IP’s and joining development houses. Games have gotten so good that I would pit the script and storyline of any video game trilogy up against the likes of any of the best movie trilogies of all time. Frankly, our stories are better, and you get to fucking be IN them!
Gaming has seen the advent of many technologies since it’s inception, too. Unlike the movie industry, they have adopted new technology and let the old stuff die a slow and painful death. Well, not a death, but they fall in to the category of nostalgia, not dead technology. I doubt you still watch movies on a reel to reel on the wall of your garage in 8mm, but there are those that still love the feel of an NES controller in their hands and live their life in 8-bits, gladly. With new systems, new graphics engines, and extremely talented minds, the gaming industry went from nerdy to chic pretty damn quickly. Have you seen an after party at E3…that’s like any Emmy after party out there…star-studded.
As internet connectivity has given way to multiplayer expansion, DLC, and now media streaming like ESPN and Netflix, the console has taken on a whole new meaning. With the internet hooked up to your XBOX or Playstation, you can download music, stream movies, play game demos, watch sports highlights and live games, can download indie titles from the arcade, play games with friends across the country, and oh yeah you can even purchase full games without leaving your chair. Just like with movies and music, you don’t need to leave your house and drive to the store to get a title, you can just press a button and have the title at your disposal before dinner is done cooking.
This idea of live and on demand has gotten to video games in a big way. The DLC was a huge leap. Wish there was more ‘movie’ in your movie? Well, you can now have more ‘game’ in your game! With DLC (downloadable content) you can buy another chapter to the story, another side mission, another part of the world that was weaved for you by all the people that made the game. Game developers are no longer limited by the space on a disc, they can just keep adding things on and new content to keep people buying copies and spending money through the digital marketplaces.
Things are progressing further and the talk of strictly digital sales is slowing growing from grumbles by gaming futurists to a dull roar from all involved. This could have both dire and profitable ramifications. Say goodbye to Gamestop, for one. Without hard copies of games, trade-ins, used titles, they are out of business. The chain should already be figuring out a third-party business model to work in the coming analog-apocalypse. With no hard copies, GameStop would go the way of the Dodo in lieu of the larger chains like Target, Best Buy and Wal-Mart offering consoles at a cheaper price and more conveniently in their omni-specific outlets. Also, with digital distribution it would require an upgrade to the skeleton system of servers that keep the online marketplace and multiplayer universe going. A switch to digital-only would result in a better user infrastructure, fast forwarding the slow development and minimal servers in place now to handle increased traffic. I would hope it would lower costs for AAA-titles overall, but I fear that the savings would be only minimal in the range of five to ten dollars a title.
There are already some services out there that are the first-adopters that see the wisdom of investing in the inevitable shift early, so they can be on the cutting edge of a working model while everyone else is just getting their pants on. Steam is quickly gaining, well, steam, as a progressive and successful gaming model for PC-users today. It is not just a gaming marketplace with over a thousand titles available for download, but is a community of savvy gamers with forums, automatic game updates, Steam-only special offers, chat services, and up to the minute industry news, but it is a successful model with full transparency. From stats on how many people are playing, achievement stats, and a lot of open information, it is a model for what might truly be the next step in the gaming process. I know we are still at a mostly hard copy stage right now. But just as with music, small gaming publishers and simply just dudes with coding skills and some free time, are able to create and distribute fun and exciting new IP’s in a cost-effective and explosive manner. Do you think Limbo was possible even five years ago? Not a chance. Digital is where it is at with the video gaming future. We already did away with user manuals for the most part. GOW3 was just north of directions scribbled on a used cocktail napkin, but at least it came with stickers. Yay for the digital future in gaming.
So where does this leave us? I could go on about book sales, newspapers, the inevitably shaky future of standard programming on cable, the advent of on demand streaming sites like Hulu and Sidereel. I could have dazzled you with massive statistics to back up every point I have made, but that’s not the Poppyc**k way. I could continue to prattle on about Omni-tools and devices and the attention span of an ever busier and ever more impatient and uninformed world. I could keep moving toward the simple idea that we don’t have enough hands to carry it all or the time in the day to drive somewhere and buy it all. We need it on demand, at our fingertips, and at a reasonable monthly price. We want less stuff but access to more things. It’s all about the digital.
We sit in an odd ethos right now, as consumers. You go and rent a movie, and buy a video game. Most people have moved on in their music to the digital world with a mix of iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify. As we move forward some stuff will stick around for nostalgia’s sake, and for high quality viewing. Blue Ray will be replaced with something, smart and 3D TV’s will be standard. Books will be a quirky thing it is chic and trendy to buy from a corner shop in downtown LA. Textbooks will be a thing of the past as tablets and Kindles become more cost effective.
We are straddling a very odd time where we have on foot in the age of analog and one foot in the age of a digital (r)evolution. The (r)evolution won’t be televised, it will be downloaded and streamed on demand. It will end up in our Netflix Queue between Uncle Buck and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It will be shared on our FB profile and synced with Tumblr and Twitter as we watch sports highlights and news videos while we download the big video game title of the year and search through the complete Beatles anthology on Music Unlimited. I feel like we’re currently in a scene from the video for A-Ha’s “Take on Me.” We are in a sketched, standard definition world. Walking behind the window we are in full-color and 3D. We’re on our way to the other side, but right now, we’re just leaning around the window; we’re both sketched, and real. I don’t know what the motorcycle guys with wrenches represent in this analogy, maybe DRM rights, but all I know is that it is an inevitable change, the cloud idea, because everyone wants to make just a little more profit, and overhead is just such a dirty word today.