Techdirt has put up a great piece about what they are calling the ‘permission culture’ problem. They are referring to the difficulties of a business model such as Netflix, which has moved from distributing physical goods to distributing streaming digital ones:
“The problem is that, unlike earlier movie-rental options, streaming rights fall fundamentally within a permission culture. Netflix is a great illustration of what’s gone wrong here. It’s gone from having a nearly unrivaled catalog of films available to rent to being the butt of Onion jokes. What happened: It shifted from a system where nobody had a veto power over its operations, to one where it had to get permission and make deals with Hollywood.”
It’s a great point, and I really like the term ‘permission culture’ to describe what’s going on here. But there is a flip side to this argument that I have not seen anybody make yet, and it’s this: simultaneous with this shift on how the business model works, there has been a shift in customers too. And this shift is just as dangerous to Hollywood as the threat of on-demand streaming.
The threat is this: content is no longer indispensable. Think about it. There are more books out right now than you could ever read. The options, for movies and music and media of every type, have blossomed. The number of places you can get it all from has blossomed too: my public library has just signed on with Hoopla, which gives me five movies a month—for free—before I even go near Netflix. And then there is Crackle, and YouTube and all the vintage stuff on Internet Archive…and that’s all before I give Netflix my eight bucks a month. So maybe one specific movie I might enjoy isn’t up there. But enough worthwhile content is.
More and more, I am finding that cord-cutters like me are seldom looking for a specific title. Rather, we’re looking for a specific media experience—a book, a movie, whatever. So, if I want to read a book, I’ll check my public library first. If I want to watch a movie or TV show, I’ll check Netflix first. Often, I am prepared to go to a media buying experience if I can’t find something interesting—the Kindle store is stop #2 for books, the iTunes store is stop #2 for movies or TV. But usually, I can find something good, even if it isn’t something I was expecting. It’s the difference between wanting to watch ‘a movie’ vs. wanting to watch a specific one.
Yes, it is true that the ‘permission culture’ model is a new paradigm that is having a role in shaping the digital market. But inherent in this model is the implication that this content the ‘industry’ is guarding so carefully is so darned important that people will fall all over themselves to meet your terms. The bottom line is, if you won’t offer content, somebody else will. The customers in this new Maker-friendly, self-publishing, Kickstart-funded marketplace will always have something to choose from. No one person’s content is so indispensable. And I think that this reality will ultimately shape the market too and make the ‘permission culture’ old guards more willing to play fair.