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Digital Content Navigates New World Of Devices

Blu-ray, Amazon's Kindle e-reader, Apple's iPad tablet and other technologies are leading digital content in directions once unimagined.
As with music, one of the biggest obstacles isn't the technology; it's the licensing of the content. The most hesitancy has been shown not by the authors, who are generally amenable to having their work distributed in a novel way. Rather, it's the publishers, who worry that e-books threaten to eat into the profits generated by their dead-tree counterparts, and are mulling strategies such as delaying sales of an e-book title until the paper edition has had some time to sell through.

The movie industry's been considering something similar -- disallowing rentals or streaming copies of a given movie until retail copies have had a chance to get out into the market. Such strategies are a retreat from the concept of the universal day-and-date debut, which was posited as a way to stave off piracy by allowing as many people as possible to get their hands on something in as many ways as possible.

Google's presence here can't be ignored, either. Their idea was to create a home for orphaned, out-of-print, and public domain works through Google Books, but the plan attracted at least as much ire as it did admiration. A big part of that was the methodology, where Google made the system opt-out rather than opt-in and in essence forced people to prove they were still the rightful owners of various texts.

Again, the problem wasn't that creators didn't want that much more attention or access to their works -- it was Google's by-fiat approach to the whole thing. The end result has been a massive amount of legal fallout; most recently and strikingly, Google Books was declared illegal in France.

Looking Ahead

When it comes to digital media, rights and permissions are the new frontier, not technology. The latter has always outstripped the former in terms of its ability to keep pace with change, to drive change, and to force significant reassessments of how media is consumed and created.

The content industries are now feeling more pressure than ever to evolve or perish. The music industry has only grudgingly, and years too late, begun to embrace digital media -- and only because entrepreneurs from outside the music industry (Apple, Amazon.com, etc.) showed them it was better to sell something and lose a little than to sell nothing and lose everything.

The movie and TV moguls chose a different strategy. With the arrival of HD, they built end-to-end content protection into the delivery mechanisms. They are not impossible to circumvent, but tough enough to defeat casual copying of the "VCR-to-VCR" variety. But the best copy-protection mechanism of them all is still affordable, realistic pricing for the media in question.

Thankfully, Blu-ray titles (and players) have been slowly reaching parity with their DVD counterparts. In 2009 the Criterion Collection released DVD and BD versions of the same films at the same price point; in 2010 many companies plan to package both editions of a given film together, or also offer them at competitive prices. This has helped, and so Blu-ray is fast on track to pick up where DVD left off -- and offer that much more at what amounts to a similar pricing structure.

What has become more urgent than ever is the need to seek out and provide new content. There's less of a future than ever in reselling people the same media over and over, and this may well be the last generation -- both in terms of technology and people -- where such a ploy is possible. The media market's become too compartmentalized, too siloed, too easily subdivided to try and turn the clock back. Neither the technology nor today's audiences will allow it.

For Further Reading:

Special Report: Apple's iPad And The Tablet Wars

Top Tech Gear Of 2009

E-Books Beat Regular Books On Xmas

Apple Buys Lala Music Service

Smartphone Users Want Mobile TV