Big Media continues to tilt at digital windmills


If you're not part of the future, then get out of the way
- John Mellencamp

I recently saw the movie The Artist, which tells the story of a silent film star who dismisses the rise of the talkies, then watches as his career spirals out of control. To me, it was a cautionary tale for all disrupted media companies: You fight change at your own risk.

Yet Big Media continues to combat digital channels, seeing them as a huge threat instead of a golden opportunity. The latest round in this seemingly endless attempt to undermine the digital future involves the publishing industry.

Perhaps emboldened by the MegaUpload take-down, Big Publishing wanted to do music and movies one better. According to a report on PaidContent, it arranged on its own to take down two foreign sites it considered to be rogue (although in an update, PaidContent reported that the Association of American Publishers later denied involvement). 

And in a less dramatic case, as we reported last week, Penguin withdrew its donations of new ebook and audio book titles from public libraries because apparently it feared digital distribution so much it believed the public library would be a platform to steal content, rather than a marketing opportunity to sell more.

Once again Big Media fights the digital future instead of embracing it. Sound familiar? It should, because it's what we've been seeing repeated over and over--whether it's newspapers, the recording industry, movies or book publishing--and even while these industries dabble in digital, they have never fully adopted it.

These fights continue years after the battle should have been over, but like the main character in The Artist, intent on making one more great silent film--against all the odds and advice to move on--Big Media continues to fight against the inevitable.

Just as music publishers fought the recording industry and the recording industry fought radio; and book publishers feared libraries and copy machines; or newspapers feared the the telegraph and TV; or movies feared pay TV, VCRs and DVDs; the Big Media battle against technology continues relentlessly.

In fact, instead of shifting their collective focus to the digital future, they fight to preserve their position with increasing fervor, going harder and harder after what they see as digital enemies. As David Meerman Scott wrote in a piece on the SOPA/PIPA fight: "The winners in technology transformations are those who embrace change, not the old-guard that tries to legislate protection for their dying business model."

Yet, that's exactly what we've seen repeated for 15 years and it's really getting tiresome. Time to move on and embrace the future, Big Media, or for goodness sake, at least get the heck out of the way. - Ron