I was listening to RadioLab the other evening during the WNYC pledge drive. During the part of the show in which they were actually driving pledges they announced one of those perks for donors of a certain level, I think they called them “lab partners”. It entitles you to some stuff, some interactivity with RadioLab producers, and the obligatory “exclusive content”. The very first thing that popped in my head was -

I’m tired of content

I got to thinking. Commerce and economics. Supply and demand. Scarcity.

Take music - music was once a thing that could only be experienced live. The recording era ended all of that and ushered in a successful business model that had a good run of 80 years or so by not only increasing the supply of music to people, but by exponentially increasing the demand. Previously if you wanted to hear Beethoven’s music you needed to go to the symphony to hear it, but now you could put on a record and listen to it. Not only that, but after the performance had ended you could put on some Pink Floyd, and after that whatever else. You weren’t confined to listening to music once a day (or once a month), you could basically listen to it all the time.

But, the commerce of the business was still driven by scarcity since after all, you still needed a record and a record player. You still had to go down to the store to buy the record, if it was even available yet. Records could be released on a date, remember that? Now what?

Records are routinely leaked on the internet and unlike a physical resource that leaks out of something, the instant something digital “leaks” onto the internet the supply will forevermore outweigh demand. How do you build a business around that?

I’ve been pondering this for as long as anyone and I now think that “exclusive content” completely misses the point. I don’t give a rip about exclusive content because there’s no such thing. Trying to create this impression of scarcity to stoke demand is pointless because there’s an endless wealth of other content that’s free right now. Don’t even demean your customers or fans with it, because it only means that they will have to jump through a hoop to engage with it. Everybody else will be casually engaging with the free stuff at their convenience. If you’re lucky.

If you’re lucky you will have patrons, not customers. Customers barely exist in the creative world now.