Atomic Content vs. the B-Side

Traditional media tends to offer package deals. Television networks, magazines, albums, … — each of them aggregates content in wholesale manner that, when done successfully, offers the consumer more than they want. But why should consumers pay for the excess bundled content that they don’t want?

Physical constraints make it impractical to distribute individual magazine articles, or stock music singles for every song. However, electronic distribution makes it possible to provide such atomic content. At face value, this might seem like this is a win for consumer and distributor alike. However, Daniel Ask’s New York Times editorial Unbundles of Joy (via Rough Type) points out a down side:

“Theoretically, all this unbundling will make everyone better off. But one consequence may be to force worthy cultural products to support themselves somehow – without being subsidized by commercial junk.”

Ironically, the article itself is available unbundled for $4.95… but I embrace and extend Daniel’s big-picture assessment — bundled distribution subsidizes alternative content with revenue mainstream content. If users could arbitrarily define their own cable packages, fledgling networks, which once included MTV and CNN, may never be successful enough to evolve into the mainstream. And consumers will never hear the B-side gem if they only purchase the hit singles.

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One Response to “Atomic Content vs. the B-Side”

  1. JonnyRo says:

    In part I get what you’re saying, but lets take the magazine case.

    I subscribe to popular science magazine. It’s a great source of light reading, but the advertising in the magazine is completely untargeted. Also, the renewal notices that are present in every single copy are irritating, as are the heavy stock inserts from car manufacturers.

    I paid for that magazine, i think it should be tuned a bit better for me. This is why Xerox’s high end printer technology, like the iGen series printers are so cool. They can create custom magazines and books and such at speeds matching conventional presses.

    I dont mind reading advertisements for jeep parts, computer electronics, etc, but if I see one more add for athena pheremone 5x i’m going to go bonkers.

    This response is likely completely off base with your original post, but it’s something that you brought up in my mind when you mentioned physical constraints on individual magazine articles.

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