Writing this essay, I am doing what I do with most of my time: sitting at a desk, ensconced in my iMac’s blue glow, creating, reading, sorting, or sending some immaterial thing or another. I talk to my friends about this sometimes. And despite the radically different lives they lead—some are world-famous CEOs. Others are painters—they all do the same thing. We are computer operators who specialize in email.
A strange thing about this work is that it is difficult to estimate its consequence. Working on an assembly line, it would be quite obvious how many widgets one produced in a day, and the value of those widgets. Building a house, one could look at the progress each week, the rooms framed, the concrete poured, the windows installed. But this relatively new digital work leaves in its immediate wake only fatigued hands and eyes, and a cascade of digital activity that is more difficult to apprehend. And I don’t just mean this metaphorically: For all the track-ability of digital activity, there is so much activity that it is hard to track, and even harder to analyze.
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Legacy content providers can still be in Fat City. But only if they overcome fear and greed.
I’ve recently come to think about digital media’s competitive environment as a layer cake with 7 distinct layers. These are, in ascending order:
- Advertising (sometimes)
Each layer requires those beneath it to reach the consumer, whose ultimate interest is primarily the content itself, but who also cares a great deal about the convenience and experience of discovering and accessing that content. For example, if I want to watch my favorite new show, Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories, my goal is to get the show exactly when I want in as few steps as possible. This can only be done by what is an astonishingly complicated hack: I must rely upon a deal that Tim and Eric have done with the Cartoon Network (creators), a licensing deal that Cartoon Network has done with Apple (content), Apple’s distribution through the iTunes Store (app), Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service (connectivity), iOS (OS), and my iPad (Hardware). If I want to hear the two new Prince albums, by contrast, I might rely upon a different slice of the cake: a license that Prince has given Warner Music Group to distribute his albums (creators), a license that Warner has granted to Spotify (content), Spotify (app), Verizon Wireless (connectivity), Google’s Android (OS), and Samsung (hardware).
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How Cryptocurrency Can Revolutionize The Music Industry
There is an incredibly boring problem in the music industry for which Bitcoin offers a potentially fascinating solution. In fact, I think this might be one of the coolest and most immediately worthwhile applications of distributed ledger and payment network technologies such as Bitcoin.
The problem is simply that no central database exists to keep track of information about music. Specifically, there are two types of information about a piece of music that are critically important: who made it and who owns the rights to it. Right now, this information is fiendishly difficult to track down, to the great detriment of artists, music services and consumers alike.
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