The Disintermediation of Media: What’s Your Value Proposition?


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I work from home, which, in many ways, is "living the dream." I roll out of bed, I put the kettle on, I boot up the computer, and I get to work. Sometime around midday, I put on some jeans, I grab a leash, and I take the dog for a nice long walk to break up the day. But working at home has some drawbacks. You don't get up and walk over to the water cooler or coffeepot and chat with your co-workers. No one stops by your desk to talk about so-and-so and what just happened at the big meeting. To stave off the cabin-fever that can come with a home office, I tend to listen to a lot of NPR and podcasts. All that chatter has a way of making you feel like you're part of a conversation.

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Marc Maron's WTF. I probably don't need to describe this very popular podcast to you, but I will anyway. Comedian Marc Maron invites comedians, musicians, actors, and other famous folks over to hang out in his garage and talk. They record their conversations and then we listen to them. The conversations are surprisingly in-depth, with Maron often diving into his guests' backgrounds and picking through their psyches like a therapist with a potty mouth.

It makes for fascinating conversations, but it's also interesting from an econtent perspective. Maron has used this podcast to reach a whole new generation of fans; he has parlayed this connection into new opportunities in TV and beyond. More importantly, he's not the only comedian taking his act straight to fans.

Louis CK and Aziz Ansari (aka Tom Haverford) have both released stand-up specials via the web. Fans can go to https://buy.louisck.net and download "Live at the Beacon Theater" in both audio and video formats. Over at http://azizansari.com, just $5 will buy you the right to stream or download Ansari's latest special. And they're not the only ones doing this. Bill Burr--another podcaster--is selling his special for $5 as well.

Who needs HBO or Comedy Central when your fans have high-speed internet?

Don't be fooled, though, because it's not just the traditional media that's being cut out of the entertainment equation. It would seem, more and more, artists are dodging Ticketmaster--something Pearl Jam tried to do nearly a decade ago, rather unsuccessfully. CK is selling tickets to his latest tour exclusively on his website. Last year I bought tickets to Mumford & Sons' "Gentlemen of the Road" stopover in Portland, Maine, via the band's website. Several months later my tickets showed up in the mail, but instead of flimsy pieces of paper I had tiny little "passports" with information about the concert, where to download tracks from the performances, and empty pages to collect stamps. It's been months since I actually went to the show, but I can't bring myself to toss the mini-passport. It's just too cool.

In many ways, what these guys are doing isn't all that different from what self-published authors have been doing over the past few years. Of course, if you want to play Madison Square Garden--or many of its equivalents in cities across the country--you'll have to deal with the likes of Ticketmaster. If seeing your face on an HBO special has been your dream ever since seeing Eddie Murphy in his red leather jacket, then you'll probably be taking the more traditional route to stardom. And if seeing your book in hardcover on the shelf at Barnes & Noble is the culmination of all your authorly dreams, then you're going to have to keep slogging away at sending your manuscript off to agents only to be rejected ... again and again.

At this point, the disintermediation of media should not be a surprise to any digital content professional--though many of you may be surprised by just how far it reaches. But now that you know, you have to ask yourself what value proposition you have that will keep your customers coming back for more. No matter what side of the digital content equation you're on (i.e., publisher, marketer, commerce solution), you need to take a good long look at your model and make sure you're providing enough value to the people who pay you or risk becoming as irrelevant as the compact disc.