The modern media world has encountered many new obstacles in smoothing the way towards an easy content distribution system. As it stands, much of today’s music has shifted from physical media to digital media. True, there are the retro bugs hoarding vinyl; however, it wouldn’t be outlandish to say the vast majority of media is consumed via digital distribution. Along with this shift come a few questions worth posing: How do people consume digital goods? How do they pay for them? How does one advertise digital goods? Is there an effective crossover between the physical media consumer and the digital distributor? Some, but not all, of these questions have been answered, though not always in the best way.
Consuming, paying for, and advertising digital goods has proven quite easy with the advent of portable media players, web payment portals, and online adverts. Purchasing a smartphone or tablet device solves the question of consuming digital goods. Movies, music, and books all remain easily accessible through an intuitive interface. Within these devices, other applications exist to aid in the perusal and purchasing of digital goods. Finally, there exist applications to connect the outside world with digital media, through services like QR code scanning and Shazam. All of these are great solutions that provide an easy-to-use solution to the artists or companies looking to distribute their wares. My question is whether it is in the best interest of both the content originator and the consumer to use these fast-becoming-standard ways of doing business.
Artists rarely see a large portion of CD sales, especially if they’re working with a label (aptly described to me by a nationally touring musician as “A bank that sells music”). On top of that, retailers like iTunes take a healthy percentage of CD sales originated through their stores. Finally, if a consumer decides they’d like to use one smartphone brand, then decides they’d like to switch to another brand, they have to jump through quite a few hoops to transfer their library to a different device - not just because of the technical learning curve, but also because of the content protection that exists when purchasing from one online outlet or another.
Certain solutions already exist to this problem; however, smartphone and tablet makers are loath to give up their stranglehold on their distribution income, requiring users to jump through additional hoops to add non-proprietary content to their devices. Any business-savvy entrepreneur can clearly see why they’d operate this way; however, I’m not sure it’s the right move in the long run. Alternate payment systems exist - Paypal, Dwolla, among others - though these payment systems require additional signing up as well as credit card information and validation.
An elegant solution lies in Bitcoin, an easily transferable, decentralized currency requiring only a digital wallet, an address to send to, and an amount to send. Devices which allow direct downloading and organization of media - Android OS phones/tablets come to mind - are a perfect environment within which to kick off a micro-payment platform for content originator use. It’s as simple as Copy/Paste (which is quickly turning into a single button push), and requires no lengthy sign-up process, simply a cash-like transaction - hand me money, and I hand you goods. Open-source payment protocols would allow a per-view fee at a reasonable rate as a result of the lack of transaction fees with Bitcoin. Currently, payment portal transaction fee minimums make such a system unfeasible. Hopefully we’ll see a change in the coming months towards breaking free of proprietary distribution channels in favor of an artist-directed distribution model, allowing artists to reap the rewards of their hard work without needing to hand a percentage over for the sake of having their goods listed.