How did the newspaper, music, and film industries go from raking in big bucks to scooping up digital dimes? Their customers were lured away by the free ride of technology. Now, business journalist Robert Levine shows how they can get back on track.
On the Internet, “information wants to be free.” This memorable phrase shaped the online business model, but it is now driving the media companies on whom the digital industry feeds out of business. Today, newspaper stocks have fallen to all-time lows as papers are pressured to give away content, music sales have fallen by more than half since file sharing became common, TV ratings are plummeting as viewership migrates online, and publishers face off against Amazon over the price of digital books.
In Free Ride, Robert Levine narrates an epic tale of value destruction that moves from the corridors of Congress, where the law was passed that legalized YouTube, to the dorm room of Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster; from the bargain-pricing dramas involving iTunes and Kindle to Google’s fateful decision to digitize first and ask questions later. Levine charts how the media industry lost control of its destiny and suggests innovative ways it can resist the pull of zero.
Fearless in its reporting and analysis, Free Ride is the business history of the decade and a much-needed call to action.
With penetrating analysis and insight, Levine, a former executive editor of Billboard magazine, dissects the current economic climate of the struggling American media companies caught in the powerful fiscal grip of the digital industry. The author argues that newspaper, music, and film industries presently record weak revenues and ad support, while customers turn to the music and information of the Internet's iTunes, Rhapsody, Netflix, Google, and others, assisted by strong government aid in funding and legislation. Levine aptly points out a critical conflict: "Most online companies that have built businesses based on giving away information and entertainment aren't funding the content they're distributing." He is most convincing in his belief that the declining quality of information in the print business results from decreasing investment, adding that the consumer is the victim of the emphasis on profits and greed. One intriguing section of the book is the excellent comparison of the domestic market and the European digital industry, with robust regulations and willingness to protect copyrights and privacy. Maybe Levine has not gone far enough in spelling out how the media can get its mojo back, but this incisive book is a start at an informed dialogue.