The Flaming Lips made a very interesting announcement, one of those announcements that made me WHACK my head and say “shitzya, why didn’t i think of that?”
“The album is dead. The Mp3 killed it. ” we all know that. And underpinning this simple statement are the fundamental shifts in creation distribution and consumption of content.
You may remember my previous wordy and complicated part-one of a (someday) three post exposition on “The Future of Culture”, and the small convoluted chat about memes. I think the flaming lips announcement is another opportunity to try and talk about “universal darwinism” and how competition leads to evolution, not only in living organism’s, but in “living” culture
Our culture is made up, at least in part, of “manufactured content”. And manufactured content has its own environment in which to survive. That environment is, simply, the profit motive of capitalism. Simply put, the best way to make money in any given environment will survive. That which does not make profit, is dead. xkcd has a tongue-in-cheek take on this which i like – check it out 🙂
The “album”, and all the “strategies” around it, existed because it was simply the most profitable way to manufacture content given the environment. Distribution technology didnt make transporting merely one song profitable – the money you could reasonably expect to earn was far outweighed by physical distribution costs. So you had to package a bunch of songs together – hence, the album.
You also had a reasonable strategy for album release taking into account things such as competitive content, content percolation times and audience attention spans. A generation ago, there was less content, which diffused slowly to an audience whose “time-spent” on any content was considerably higher. The “one album every 18 months” was, simply put, the best way to milk/maximise profits.
Of course the “digital revolution” and “media explosion” changed the environment completely. More music was able to release, which spread through the an increasingly distracted audience faster and faster. Suddenly, the previous strategy wasn’t as effective.
The first calamity would, of course, be the physical product. Simply put, the profit motive would force music to go “online”. But even online, given competition and audience attention spans, even the album strategy is a no go. Simply put, a distracted audience doesnt want 12 songs every 18 months, it wants something short, and it wants it NOW.
Given that environment – dont you think the flaming lips announcement makes sense? wouldnt this be the way distribution of “manufactured content” would evolve to maximise profits?