One of the great things about working on the DataPortability Project, is the exposure to some amazing thinking. Today alone, I stumped on this great piece questioning the point of a music label (via Crosbie Fitch ). Separately, I also came across this interesting bit of thinking about imagining what a world would look like without copyright . Those pieces helped give me more solid arguments with something that’s been on my mind a lot. That being, consumers don’t pay for content’s representation per se. Instead, they pay for the associated experience.
With the digital age, we have seen an uprooting of these traditional industries that operate in the content industries as we have seen with the recording & publishing industries. Our traditional approaches to managing content are being challenged, because we (or rather, they) grew complacent on the technological limitations of content distribution. However, now that we have a new type of technology to distribute content (due to computing, the Internet and the web), we are seeing greater potential for content to be consumed – and it’s also exposing something we have forgotten. The digital revolution is changing business practices but it highlights the true nature of content: it’s about the experience.
To illustrate what I mean, let’s define content as being products like music and books.
When you buy a album, you are not buying it for the physical CD or the plastic casing. The reason you are buying it, is so you can get access to the music. This access entitles you to experiencing the music. On a similar note, when you go to a concert to hear a band, you are not paying to stand in a concert hall. You are paying for the experience of hearing the music live, which also incorporates the associated experience of being a part of a crowd. Both those experiences trigger an emotional reaction – which can be positive or negative, but regardless, is what makes us feel alive. Humans pay for music, because the emotions being triggered by that content, helps them feel like humans.
Beyonce’s movements: something you pay to experience
With books, what you are purchasing is knowledge. The paper that you read the novel on, which although can sometimes been done up nicely, isn’t why you buy it. What you are buying, is an experience to consume that knowledge. Some books offer intellectual stimulation; other books offer excitement through a riveting storyline. Regardless, the experience of the book reading is what you are purchasing.
It’s about the experience, stupid
Talking about cultural artifacts like music and books is one thing. But there is no reason why we can’t consider this with information in a generic sense – as the initial data is simply a stage earlier in the value chain . In the context of my personal data, this is something that I have generated. Nothing really special about it. But it becomes special, when a web application can do interesting things with that data. That meaning, when a application can process my data in such a way that gives me a new experience.
For example, there are certain Facebook applications that reveal some interesting information about my friends, by generating insight. Knowing that 58% of my friends are male is useful when I’m considering a party (more beer and Beam; less wine and champagne). Knowing that some of my friends are traveling or living in a certain country, is useful because it gives me awareness that I can meet up with them. By Facebook allowing applications to process my data in the context of my friends, the information they can generate is a lot more valuable if Facebook locked this down. The experience of having access to this information, is not as emotionally driven as a Jane Austen book; but the experience of insight is still something I get out of it.
The ability to offer a unique experience to a consumer, is what is key to any information-based products. Triggering emotions is a powerful thing about humanity, and a consumer when consuming information is looking to get an experience which in reality can only be captured in their memory. Of course, content in the form of entertainment is more about the emotion, whilst news is more about the access , but that doesn’t take away from the inherent characteristics of information.
Recognising that information-products are an experience, should give a better understanding about what we do with them. For example, writing this blog I don’t get any monetary benefit from it. However, the more people that want to copy my "original work", the better. Whilst that may sound contrary to smart business sense, it’s because I recognise the benefit I get from blogging is reputation (well one of them at least). And despite the fact people can ‘steal’ my content, doesn’t mean they can steal my brain. As a content creator, I am being rewarded with the associated benefits of a good reputation, despite the fact I cannot assert ownership over my words.
"If you put that picture on the Internet I‚Äôll call my lawyer"
So why do we obsess over control?
If you are a web application, a book author, or a musician – the way you make money isn’t through the information you generate. Instead, what you are being rewarded with is with a brand; a relationship with your consumer of trust; or just simply attention. Open source developers can appear to be like some hippies helping the world. But look closely at how they make a living, and it’s on the associated expertise that has been recognised onto them through their brand, which allows them to charge for consulting.
If you operate in the information industry, the way you make money is on the experience you create for the consumer – and by generating that experience, you can then create a monetary stream off it. For example, a band that no one knows about has no demand for their music. A cult following, because people get obsessed over their songs played freely everywhere, allows them to make buckets of money on merchandise and concerts. Twitter is a web application, that when I first heard about it, I would never have used it. Now that I use it, I am willing to pay for certain benefits that make my experience more enjoyable (ie, profiling of tweets, etc). Twitter has an opportunity to make money because I value the experience they offer me, and I’m willing to pay to make it a better experience.
In the information business, experience is ultimately your product. Ignore that, and you will be making decisions that at best, will amount to a huge amount of opportunity cost. Here’s hoping that as we move forward with DataPortability, the thinking of businesses can change. Locking down data is not how you make money; it’s the compelling experience you offer your consumers that is the true source of competitive advantage and ultimately, revenues.