Thursday, January 19, 2012

The American Entertainment Industry's Death Rattle

It's obvious that the circumstances which allowed so much wealth to be accumulated in Hollywood by major record labels have changed, but the people at the top don't want to change with them. The industry's demise (at least in its current form) is evidenced by the great efforts being made to legislate demand for their products - through the SOPA/PIPA legislation in Congress, which led to a blackout of many popular sites yesterday, and today's effort to shut down as a copyright infringer.

Piracy is not really the problem here, but a symptom of a larger issue: the entertainment industry wants to charge more for their products than people are willing to pay. Maybe people used to be willing to pay $15-20 for a CD, but no more. With digital distribution, artists can sell their music to fans directly, without the entertainment edifice standing in between. This is a better deal for both musicians and fans, but makes most of the music industry obsolete. The same is not exactly true in Hollywood - someone has to finance big-budget action flicks - but digital services such as Netflix Watch Instantly are changing the game there too. Why would I go pay $12 to see a movie in a theater, when I can pay $8 per month for more streaming content than I can watch in a lifetime?

Even if online piracy were eliminated completely, it wouldn't address the bigger issue facing the entertainment industry: substitution. Consumers have an increasing variety of entertainment options to choose from, many of which are free or extremely cheap. Now that online distribution is easy, there's really no need for the big industry surrounding content distribution. They can kick and scream all they want, but the entertainment industry as we know it is functionally doomed. It just doesn't realize that yet (or is trying desperately to deny the obvious).

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