Nothing Ever Dies
The image above is so telling. Last July, Prince told the UK’s Daily Mirror that the internet was finished.
“The Internet’s completely over,” he said. “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it, and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”
He compared it to MTV, that bastion of tastemaking that long ago kissed music programming goodbye in favor of reality shows, docu-style TV and now scripted programming. Too bad Prince was wrong. And so is everyone else who says anything is over. Nothing is over.
The internet is just the most obvious example to use to make that point, because on the internet, everything seems to be over before it even starts. What’s the shelf-life of any piece of content online? Unless it goes viral and makes its way to soccer moms in flyover states and little Kim and Nicky start sharing it with their Twilight-watching friends, most things online die within a few hours. A good friend and colleague of mine who runs one of the most popular websites for the 18-35 year old “cool” kid demographic once told me that working on that particular media brand’s website was like closing a magazine …. every single day. Which means you’ve got to keep your site stocked with fresh content every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This is virtually impossible, but everyone does the best they can. It’s only within recent years that people seemed to realize, “hey, this internet thing doesn’t have an ‘off’ button.” But that’s neither here nor there.
The reality is, when you’re pressed for new content every 30 minutes, the content-cycle moves very fast, and thus logic would predict that only the cream would rise to the top. But that’s not really how it works. Are cat videos the cream of the crop? Not necessarily. Yet they’re universally seen as the type of content that draws massive amounts of views on Youtube. Most of them are shoddy camera phone-shot videos that capture some short moment of cuteness that you just have to watch to brighten up your life.
Now I’m not saying the entire summation of Youtube or online content comes down to cat videos >>> everything else. VEVO, for example, has trounced many things on Youtube with its pre-roll ad-supported major label videos to the tune of billions of views between Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber. Sometimes looking at the view counts on their videos is a mindfuck. Like wow, 378 million people watched the video for “Bad Romance?” That’s more people than the entire United States population. Now that Youtube has launched their top 100 chart, it may be even easier to see the discrepancy between professionally-produced content and that of the DIY filmmakers who upload their stuff hoping it may have the slight chance of being seen by one person, or— gasp!— going viral. Charts make a big difference.
Still, that doesn’t mean that things that don’t chart well don’t exist. And that is ultimately the salient point that I’m trying to make here (although admittedly, I think I did a terrible job at it). It’s this idea that because one thing has 378 million plays, another thing isn’t totally cool with its paltry 1 million. Fuck man, that’s still 1 million people watching. Do you realize how many people is 1 million? That’s a lot of faces. It would probably take you a month to personally introduce yourself and shake hands individually with 1 million different people.
So we always hear of business models being dead, things not working anymore, so on and so forth, but the reality of it is, nothing ever dies completely. That’s not to say that something is still effective or that it makes much sense. I always use the bicycle as an example of this. Say you were making bicycles in the early 1900s. By around 1920, you were basically fucked. Because not as many people wanted bikes anymore. People wanted cars. I’m sure bike production was still high and that bikes still sold, but the automobile industry was certainly on the rise. It’s like that with music, with publishing, with anything really. New models come in, the business evolves and whatever it was you were doing starts to look like it has less of an upside.
The Clash said it best though, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”
That depends on your goals. If you were a manufacturer of vinyl records, you probably would have bailed that business long ago. But here we are in 2011, and sales of vinyl records are up more than 300% since the early 90s, when the compact disc became en vogue. These aren’t boom times for vinyl, but someone somewhere is making money off of them.
Which is all just to say, trends change. Things are cool and then they’re not cool. Like stocks. Stuff gets hot, stuff gets cold. Are you riding the hype looking for a quick buck or are you gonna be the Warren Buffet type, buy and hold? The internet isn’t dead, just like MTV isn’t dead. Just because you don’t buy records in a record store doesn’t mean a whole bunch of people are the same way. Every week soundscan numbers come out, and every week evidence is there to support the fact that someone is plunking down their cash on a physical CD. Are the numbers shrinking? Of course. Just like the numbers of bicycles sold after the automobile was introduced most likely did (don’t have any hard statistics on this handy). But bicycles are still selling. Maybe their use has changed. Maybe they’re a novelty item. Maybe they’re for specialists. But to suggest something is dead just silly. And nobody in their right mind who calls themselves a business person takes a product off the shelf if people are still offering their money for it week after week.
Wanna see the best example of this? AOL. Yes, some people still pay for dial up. Less relevant? Certainly. Dead? Definitely not.