Media Wars Part 3: How We Got Here

Last column I discussed the fact that the Media Geekonomy is an area of conflict, an Exctraction Economy where different factions are in conflict.  Fans want things cheaper, the Support people want to make money and keep their good position, and the Creators of media want money and stability.  Their interests don't line up and often end up adverse.

So how did this happen?

1) Because it's business.
Like it or not (and my take is it just is), a lot of people involved in the media are in it to make money.  They may have the most noble of intentions otherwise, but they also need to get paid and need to eat.  If there's a threat to this income or a perceived threat, people are going to defend it, perhaps with odd, stupid, or overly aggressive responses.

That's of course assuming honest reactions to changes in the economy.  There's also the fact that the Media Geekonomy allows some people to leverage it for insane profits, and some individuals, to put it mildly, are going to take advantage of that.  In most of these cases they probably figure they should anyway – money, for many, is about keeping score.

So between real concern and greed, those that make the money from the Media Geekonomy are at odds with each other – and of course the fans, who want things fast and cheap, and aren't happy with greed, lawsuits, or accusations of piracy, aren't happy.  Fans aren't exactly going to appreciate legitimate issues of economic concern when they're paying insane prices, watching sites get shut down, and hearing talks about lawsuits.

Then of course there's the Creator-Support battle.  Creators have had to rely on Support individuals and companies to get their product out – and to generate enough income for them to survive and prosper (or just make a ton of money).  Support of course wants to make as much money as possible themselves.  You get the idea.

Business is business, and sadly it's not always forward-thinking.  For that you need to have a larger cultural/ethical system and proper regulation.

2) Bad Images of Creators – and Support

I bet you can name at least one Media Creator – an author, actor, etc. – that people bad mouth for reasons you can't understand.

There's an assumption built at least into North American culture, that many famous Creators are somehow arrogant, overpaid, manipulative, and  undeserving of their status.  I'm sure this is correct in some cases, but in many cases it seems the bad attitude comes from a mix of jealousy and figuring those that are arrogant and greedy are representative of other Creators.  Mistrust of Creators seems to be built into our culture – so Fans and Support alike mistrust them.

The response of course is to find more ways to get ahold of product – as a fan, or as a Support person wanting to control what is seen as an unpredictable resource.

There's also bad image for the Support companies – publishers, distributors, etc.  I'll be honest, based on #1, it's often far more deserved than the way Creators get treated.  However it does miss the point that some parts of the Support industry are vital and legitimate.

Considering how many companies and people in the Support role have treated Creators as cash cows and Fans as potential criminals, the bad attitude is kind of understandable.  Fans aren't going to feel bad not sending money to any person or company in the Support role when they feel that person is a jerk or company is composed of multiple jerks.

3) Technology

Technology didn't create the problems in the Media Geekonomy – it just brought them out by changing how things are done, changing how people can do things, and exposing gaps.  Copying files made distributing music and films easier – and of course people who were used to lending out discs and DVDs and the like didn't think of it as piracy.  Publishing has changed with POD.  Relations among Fans and Creators and such changed with Social Media.

Technology changed how things worked or could work.  It changed relationships.  It changed what people could do.  Needless to say, this freaked a lot of people out because, in the end, people could get things cheaper and faster, share things easier, and interact quicker.

Those in the Support roles, which enjoyed a unique position, freaked out the worst, as did some Creators.  They saw technology as a threat to their business models – which in a way it was, because it meant change.  However we saw a lot less evolution and a lot more whining, lawsuits, and bizarre control schemes.

This of course only annoyed the Fans more (and some of the Creators) – having gotten used to the convenience of technologies and access, they faced lawsuit threats, restrictive technologies, and being treated like criminals.  They didn't react well to this.  It further deepened and created adversarial relationships (see #2).

Meanwhile technology let Fans reach out to each other, and Fans and Creators to interact in new ways.  Everything became more intimate and more public – which was often good.  Just not always (as we all know from seeing public internet meltdowns).  Plus those in the Support role now had to deal with different relations among Fans, Creators, and themselves.

4) Stupidity and Greed

I've mentioned those in all of the above reasons, but I feel these twin issues need to be called out.  Doing dumb and greedy things annoys people.

So this is where we stand; basic business and lack of forward-thinking, cultural issues, and technology (which often exacerbates the first two).  This has led us to the current simmer of resentment.  People are still going to want to make money, there are resentments, and there are continuing technology changes – and none of this is going away.

We're not getting out of the "Extraction" mentality in the Media Geekonomy until we consciously try and get out of it.

Of course, that's the next part.

– Steven Savage