The Middlemen

In the wake of two somewhat cynical posts regarding the ability of governments and corporations to leverage their influence in an effort to control the flow of content on the internet, a return to the potential benefits of the online community is in order. 

For bloggers, independent videographers, unsigned musicians and other nonaffiliated content producers, a great benefit of the Internet is the ease and low-cost in which anyone can produce and distribute content. On top of this, the ability to produce content without the influence of publishing companies, record corporations or other third-party influences grants the content creators, a certain liberty to pursue their interests and expound on their opinions in whatever way they themselves see fit.     

Unfortunately, the Internet, with its long-tail economic model, where consumers can choose from a wide variety of content, is not always highly lucrative to producers of independent media. Additionally, when these independent outlets do become profitable, these unaffiliated content producers often find a large part of their revenue comes from advertisers. Whenever advertisers take a prominent role in financing online media, whether it’s a political blog to an online gossip show, these formerly independent content producers begin to acknowledge the effect their content will have on their revenue streams, putting the independence of their content at risk to one degree or another.

YouTube, is by far the most popular video-sharing website on the Internet and since 2007, a sizable minority of video producers have become “partners” with the website featuring their videos. YouTube adds advertising  to independently produced content and then sends a portion of the ad revenue to the content’s creator. This set-up has allowed many part-time YouTube video producers to literally quit their day jobs and focus on their YouTube content. A 2008 New York Times piece on the topic, features the story of Michael Buckley; a former administrative assistant for Live Nation, who lives in Connecticut. 

Buckley’s celebrity gossip show, What the Buck?, which appears three times a week, nets the man over $100,000 a year. This money comes from YouTube advertisements and is a prime example of the Internet’s ability to cut out the middlemen, who in the past were responsible for forwarding content through corporate publishing and broadcasting avenues; before created material ever reached a sizable audience. Contemporary creative content producers no longer need professionals to ensure there material reaches a mass audience. 

In this manner creators of independent media not only free themselves from the corporate interests of studios and publishing firms regarding controversial material, even if it’s at the expense of advertising funded content, they also enable anyone with the available time to get their message onto the Internet; ensuring a dialogue and ever-present cycle of new ideas throughout the digital community that might disappear if Net Neutrality becomes an ideal of the past.  

YouTube’s “partner” model is great for small unknown independent content producers, whose habitual musings can turn into comfortable careers. On the other hand, well-know artists can also reap the benefits of the Internet’s ability to leave middlemen shut out from the dissemination of content from creator to consumer.

Radiohead, the English group who broke onto the scene in the early 1990s with the single “Creep,” developed a fanatical fan-base and became alternative rock legends with their break from the mainstream music scene. The band continues to be groundbreaking pop culture icons with their new album In Rainbows. Radiohead effectively circumvented any third party influence a record company could have on the production of a studio album by offering In Rainbows online, without a fixed price and without the backing of an industry label. 

By using the internet to go directly to the consumer, Radiohead, eliminated any possibility of deadlines or intrusions on the music group’s artistic preferences. An independently produced album, In Rainbows, offers the band’s fans a completely unrestricted view at the artistic preferences of the quintet. A view that comes at whatever price the audience sees fit, a revolutionary step that allows those formerly known as the audience to pay what they deem a fair price. Notably, in this arrangement the band receives 100 percent of the revenue, as they are free from the costly entanglements of record label contracts. 

The members of Radiohead, have achieved enough success to easily produce an independent album, where substantial amounts of sales come from user determined pricing; with little risk to their professional careers. Nevertheless, this concept of providing cheap or free content is one often employed by start-up bands without record labels who disseminate their content on websites including    

These band with far fewer followers and far less notoriety than Radiohead, cannot expect the same level of cash inflow that the English group received following their In Rainbows experiment; an experiment which proved true fans will give artists money to keep producing enjoyable content. However, the model being employed by Radiohead can greatly benefit even the small-scale musicians, who fill the annals of Myspace.

Through In Rainbows, Radiohead, a band made famous by challenging the status quo has done it again, making independent albums available mainly online they are setting a precedent. A precedent where record labels and the corporate interests that often follow are not necessary to produce critically acclaimed music, which can reach a wide audience and return a much larger profit margin to the content creators.        

As bloggers and musicians have utilized the Internet to avoid publishers and record companies, director Edward Burns, has also attempted to cut out the middleman from the movie industry. An article in the Los Angeles Times, explains how Burns, whose movies focus on the lives of young professionals in New York City, realized his films were often not distributed through large tracts of the country and it made more sense to cut distribution costs by making his new film, Purple Violets, solely available on iTunes.

According to David Sarno of the LA Times, “Releasing a film online eliminates costs associated with printing and distribution, while also making the film available, in essence, everywhere.” 

The Internet provides content producers, bloggers and web-casters, with the unprecedented opportunity of cutting out the middleman; leading to higher profit margins for themselves and more uninfluenced content for their audience. In the Internet era any content producer can go straight to the consumer cutting out middlemen responsible for distributing the content in previous decades.

With the elimination of these corporate middlemen, content creators control when and how their content goes to the public adding to the diverse opinions available throughout the online community.     




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