Last Sunday’s Observer column.
The key to survival – in business as in the jungle – is to be able to learn from your mistakes. The strange thing is that some industries haven’t yet figured that out. Chief among them are the so-called “content” industries – the ones represented by huge multimedia corporations which own movie studios, record labels and publishing houses.
Every 20 years or so, technology throws up a challenge to these industries. When audio cassettes arrived, for example, the music industry fought tooth and nail to have the technology outlawed or crippled. Why? Because it would encourage “piracy”. What happened? The record labels wound up making lots of money from cassettes as well as records.
Then along came the video recorder, and the movie industry fought it tooth and nail because it was the handmaiden of the devil – on account of facilitating “piracy”. What happened? Same story: it turned out that the studios were able to make tons of money from videocassettes, because films continued to sell long after they had disappeared from cinemas.
Since then the story has been repeated at least twice more – with DVDs and portable MP3 players. So you’d think that the penny would have dropped in what might loosely be called the minds of those who run the content industries. The lesson is that new technologies that look like threats can become glorious opportunities. But there’s still no evidence that media moguls have grasped that simple idea.