Back when I was a gamer, I used to pine for out-of-print resources which I couldn’t buy, even used, because they were so rare. In those days, the best thing anyone could do was to hit as many used RPG-bookshops as one could, and hope, and be patient. But now, of course, at an online shop called DriveThruRPG.com, you simply pay for the right to download an Adobe PDF of whatever files you want. Voila: no more out-of-print blues, and it’s cheaper than buying coveted old print editions of the books; for someone like me, who’s much more concerned with content than collectibility, it’s a great solution.
The thing is, that the model isn’t just appropriate to older data. As an article I recently linked to (after I found it on Joi Ito’s Web) sketched some pretty dramatic changes coming in the way our entertainment media and literature are distributed, marketed, manufactured… hell, the whole industry is headed for a massive shift.
Amazon.com, the article by Anderson claims, created a new kind appetite in the audiences of anyone who uses them: people get recommendations for books that are similar, compared to, or otherwise linked to the books they have read and enjoyed. This creates a demand for something other than top-of-the-charts mainstream media. From the article:
Most people guess 20 percent, and for good reason: We’ve been trained to think that way. The 80-20 rule, also known as Pareto’s principle (after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who devised the concept in 1906), is all around us. Only 20 percent of major studio films will be hits. Same for TV shows, games, and mass-market books – 20 percent all. The odds are even worse for major-label CDs, where fewer than 10 percent are profitable, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
But the right answer, says Vann-Adib? is 99 percent. There is demand for nearly every one of those top 10,000 tracks. He sees it in his own jukebox statistics; each month, thousands of people put in their dollars for songs that no traditional jukebox anywhere has ever carried.
People get Vann-Adib?s question wrong because the answer is counterintuitive in two ways. The first is we forget that the 20 percent rule in the entertainment industry is about hits, not sales of any sort. We’re stuck in a hit-driven mindset – we think that if something isn’t a hit, it won’t make money and so won’t return the cost of its production. We assume, in other words, that only hits deserve to exist. But Vann-Adib? like executives at iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix, has discovered that the “misses” usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market.
So it looks like it’s a great time to be a geek.
Which also suggests, my friends, that if you want to work on distributing stuff you love, do it digitally, because Amazon.com was only the first step in the overall coming revolution in media. It’s gonna get a whole lot different before it feels the same again.