One of the best things about my involvement in Colligent (f/k/a IndieMarketer) is the ringside seat it offers me on the digital music business, and on digital media in general. From a macro trends perspective, anyone hoping to make money selling access to digital media, whether it’s music, film, still images or text, had better consider a new line of work. DRM is dead, unfettered filesharing is the norm and ad-supported is the only way anyone’s going to squeeze a nickel out of media going forward.
As true as all of this seems today, the closer I get to the digital media business the more opportunities I see. As Andy noted recently, entrepreneurs always believe the future is right around the corner, when in fact it typically takes much, much longer to arrive. The frictionless future of digital media is definitely approaching, but there are pockets of resistance that will continue to deliver economic returns to entrepreneurs who are nimble enough to surf the change.
Colligent is just one example of this: their early focus on independent artists and small labels has matured into a broader offering that includes (and even favors) the large incumbents. Why? Although Colligent can help smaller outfits execute their existing niche marketing strategies more effectively, the company’s offering is potentially transformative for the majors, showing them a path toward a new way of developing and marketing acts that relies less on launching generic promo assaults for a handful of chosen acts and more on finding and cultivating niche audiences for their entire catalog. Despite the free-fall in their existing product development model, each of the majors sits on a mountain of digital IP in the form of back catalog. They will look radically different in five or ten years, but as business entities (and Colligent customers) the majors are not going away anytime soon.
Stepping back from the music industry to consider the full spectrum of digital media, even as the costs of digital production and distribution fall toward zero there are still individuals and businesses who are willing (or even prefer) to pay cash for their content. There aren’t many contrarian entrepreneurs who are willing to sail into a headwind this strong, but the few that are will find plenty of business to go around.