Weary Giants of Flesh and Steel
Since the beginning of the 20th century, as works of art became mechanically reproducible with the invention of the Phonograph and early cinematography, an intriguing paradox emerged. On the one hand, the business model built around these new industries made entertainment and consumption of art more accessible to the masses than they ever were before, while on the other hand the control over media and the profits derived from it became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
These hands were overwhelmingly attached to entities controlling the capital intensive process of physically replicating and distributing copies of records and movies, like early Pathé or Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company. These, already monopolistic groups to begin with, morphed and merged progressively in the course of the 20th century, eventually leaving Sony alone to dominate almost all of music publishing and distribution, alongside a very short list of movie studios and TV stations, controlled almost entirely by a handful of entities.
For decades, the entertainment market was entirely owned by this constellation of power. Being an artist almost certainly meant being employed or bought by the same bosses.
“Cyberspace” to the rescue
All this seemed to be up for disruption some 20 years ago, with a creative revolution appearing to be not only imminent, but inexorable. The suddenly accessible Internet, a painfully slow, decentralized utopia back then, seemed like the advent of a steadfast, linear process, destined to overthrow any existing restriction on the spread of information and creativity.
These were the times of the first “weblogs” and personal homepages, thousands of which would soon host John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, warning the “weary giants of flesh and steel”, that in our brave new digital Shangri-La, “whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.”
Since then, yet again, a lot has changed. Barlow himself claims to have grown “older and smarter”, while the rest of us have learned the hard way that progress is almost never a linear process. We may not be dependent on factories anymore to reproduce and distribute content, but the decentralized, bottom-up, creative revolution of the global conveyance of thought seems to tarry behind more than it did a fifth century ago.
“The last desperate fart of a dying corpse” / Thom Yorke
In the last two decades, the world of publishing and distribution has obviously changed dramatically, albeit not in the way we imagined or hoped. Labels collapsed, News and Media outlets struggle to survive, and very little is left of what once seemed as the unshakable pillars of the media industry only a few years ago. But the oligopolic entertainment market, characterizing the 20th century, was not replaced, as we hoped, by a free exchange of ideas and creative work, in which artists and fans thrive, but consumed by a few, even bigger behemoths, feeding off of the decomposing corpse of a dying industry.Industry giants like Sony and Warner Music have virtually been assimilated into a Borg-like entity called Spotify, which has become more or less the only outlet through which artists can reach their audience, enjoying a monopoly status no one could have even dreamed up a few years ago. And like with any monopoly, it’s the ones most dependant on its services who are harmed by it the most. Known for calling it “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”, even Radiohead’s Thom Yorke eventually gave in, listing the band’s albums on the streaming service kicking and screaming.
There are, of course, other alternatives. Some artists, including Radiohead, tried to market their albums directly to fans with moderate success, but in an age of permanent, direct access to any kind of media à la Spotify, this doesn’t smell and taste like the future. What is needed is a new business model, one that accounts for a reality in which any conceivable form of content is merely a few clicks away from our hungry eyes and ears, but also manages to compensate and incentivize the creators of this content.
Is this possible? And if yes, where can such a model be found?
A New Business Model
The answer may lay on the other side of the media revolution of the last decade: social media, or, to be more precise – in the business model social media giants have built around User Generated Content, or UGC.
Facebook alone has generated a whopping 27 Billion USD in revenue in 2016. The main force behind this slightly unbelievable figure is content, generated and curated by users, which Facebook and its competitors employ to attract other users’ attention, which is then redirected and sold to the highest bidder.
This economy of attention is a powerful tool for monetization of content. Alas, it is not currently used to incentivise the creation of quality content or for the optimization of curation and audience matching, but rather to enrich a few platform operators.
However, in the age of decentralization and cryptographic value transfer, several opportunities emerge to tap into this seemingly bottomless well of monetized attention, redirecting at least parts of the value invested in it to the hands of artists and the curators who help them meet their audiences.
For this to happen, we don’t even need the contemporary publishing giants like Facebook to crumble and vanish. Rather, the name of the new game is associating attention with a cryptographic token, which can then be used to incentivize curators to match content with the right audiences on the one hand, while on the other rewarding artists in proportion to the Amplification of their creations.
With this, the first step into Synereo’s Roadmap, a decentralized attention economy emerges, finally fulfilling what we have been promised more than 20 years ago –
“…The global conveyance of thought no longer requires factories to accomplish. […] We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts. We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world governments have made before.” J. P. Barlow; Davos, Switzerland
February 8, 1996