Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What evolution can teach us about the value of music (and content in general) in the digital age.

Back in 2006 I wrote a multi-part series on social media and consumer generated content. Part 4 was a titled The Relative value of Content (is Dropping). This is a expansion on those thoughts and that prediction.

Popular music, perhaps more than any other cultural product uses an evolution like means of reproducing new forms and advancing its existence. It may also be the most clear example and easily observable form of memetic structures and cycles.

Like all systems that employ replication and variation to propel, grow and spread, the more efficient it becomes the greater its output and the less valuable or critical the individual articulations become.

In biological evolution if a species numbers are low the life and well-being of individual creatures is very high. For a species that is endangered the life of every single one becomes a critical factor in the overall survival of the species, let alone its evolution and advancement. Think whales. When a species numbers are high, the value of the individuals is low and each becomes more important in terms of its potential ability to introduce traits that can positively shape the future of the species. Weak individuals with bad traits or poor health can be disposed of and disregarded very casually. Think cockroaches.

If we apply this perspective to popular culture there is a important prediction that we can make about the value of content, particularly music. It is going down and at some point may plummet. The pricing may not yet reflect this but the problems of piracy and distribution are clear signs that there is misalignment.

The amount of new music produced, the channels through which people are exposed to it, and the methods by which it can be stored and consumed have expanded exponentially. The shelf life for its use and enjoyment is looking more and more like the life cycle of a fruit fly. it used to be closer to the life of cat kept as a house pet.

Digital technology, both consumer side and on the production side has put the production, distribution and consumption of music on steroids. What was once a laborious process that kept a species of cultural output alive and growing at a healthy pace is now churning out byproduct that makes rabbits and cockroaches look lethargic.

The music industry should have thought about ways to transform their industry by getting involved and finding profit centers within those disruptive technologies a long time ago. More on that some other time.

(posted via iPhone from the comforts of my decadent and idle escape. Forgive the misspellings and pig knuckled keystrokes)

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