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What Makes a Big Business These Days?

Interesting read over at Silicon Alley Insider on the slowly declining concert business, where it is adeptly noted:
The peanut gallery's advice to musicians goes something like this: Stop whining about music piracy! Go on the road and make your money there! After all, none of you make money on record sales, anyway! But what if the concert business isn't that healthy, either? Pollstar, which tracks concert sales in the U.S., says the business held flat during the first half of the year. That's supposedly a victory given the weakening economy. But the numbers are actually less encouraging: Total ticket sales dropped 5.6%, to 16.9 milllion, offset by a 5.9% price increase.

I'm not surprised by this. With the democratization of access to distribution, it actually becomes harder and harder, not easier, to gain traction among the masses. You literally have to win people over one at a time. Thus, with more and more people competing to attract the attention of others, the overall noise level increases but the amount of attention any one person or thing can attract becomes lower.

If your in the attention gathering business, like musicians are, that spells trouble. Building yourself a niche audience becomes easier, a big audience harder.

So if you're a musician, how do you become a big act? Used to be if you caught the right A&R person's ear, you'd get access to their marketing machine, compete against a handful of others for the attention of the masses (via radio, MTV, etc.) and have a good shot of making it big. Not anymore. Now you compete on YouTube and MySpace and there aint any gatekeeprs there. As a result, not many truly "big" acts break anymore. So it's really not a surprise that the concert business is suffering.

I wrote about this affect in the past and came to the conclusion that what the web needed was more taste makers, not taste measures. As anyone who has a blog will tell you, Page Rank right now is the leading determinant of attention people get on the web. And since that type of attention is not very sticky (except to Google), it does a poor job of taste making.

I guess after reading this latest article i find myself wondering if there's a more fundamental shift. Maybe its time to question whether certain industries we took for granted as being big businesses (music, media, entertainment in general?), were only big business because distribution required a gate keeper. No more gate keeper role, no more big business? Maybe. Well, other than the locator service that helps you find your way through all the noise....

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