Monday, March 30, 2009

Personal microbrands: Freedom from...distribution?

At the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival I attended, sci-fi author, festival icon and sometime Wired magazine contributer Bruce Sterling mockingly referred to himself as a Global Microbrand.  

It was only one moment during his annual 'Rant' at SXSW, but it served to encapsulate much of what one might look to as 'The Future of X', where 'X' is any profession...journalist, artist, engineer...

Say what?

Try the following experiment. 

Read the passage below (which I've copied from The Lefsetz Letter here) ...the original passage was written in reference to the music business and its struggles (in particular, John Mellencamp's whiny rant on the state of the music biz). 

Wherever I've highlighted the music-related attrbutes, simply insert your favorite profession: Journalism, Music, Film, Advertising....whatever you like. Chances are, it fits. And if it does, then you get the idea of the why the personal microbrand...rather than the anonymous toil for a corporate macrobrand...may be the future path to success for many people in the always-on, transparently connected world.  

The major record label hegemony has been broken.  No longer is the music landscape dominated by fat cat gatekeepers who get to control what America hears.  You can write and record your own music, and release it too.  Will anybody buy it?  Probably not if it’s bad, but you no longer have to get permission to play, and that’s great!

...We’ve entered an era of transparency, where data can tell you exactly what has transpired...More information is good for the artists, not bad!

...You can choose your own business model!  You don’t have to be beholden to the major label game of selling physical product!  If you want to give away your music online to drive concert attendance, great! Furthermore, at least you’ve got a chance of being heard, unlike in the days where you had to pay off the radio programmer to play your record.  And you can sell your own merchandise, which you can order as needed, just in time, online.

...The tools available to the musician are staggering.  From the production to the exhibition of music. 

So what?

Society needs journalists. We just don't need papers. Society needs artists and authors and designers too. But do we need the organizations that arose to employ them and distribute their work? Like the music business, it's the distribution and marketing intermediaries (i.e., record labels, ad networks, newspapers) that are having to evolve their business model most. More musicians [journalists, advertisers, engineers] than ever are able to take their shot at garnering an audience. 

The personal microbrand, enabled by low-cost, networked technology, may mean that we don't need all the same intermediaries of the past to get distribution today.  For a personal microbrand to work, all the same characteristics of the brand--reputation, personality, quality--are applied to the person performing the task...the major difference is that the consumer is now the sole and final arbiter of those attributes. Social networks enable reputation, personality and quality to be determined and revised continuously, in realtime, for all to see. 

Disintermediation is a term that's been used to describe the phenomenon of replacing physical distribution with digital...particularly for music. It's been around for quite some time. Its time has come for business models beyond music.

For a look at music video that would never (or, should never!) get distribution on eMpTv, I bring you the microbrand, er, microband...Plastica! (35,000+ views to date...not a bad debut).


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