We talk a lot these days about paradigm shifts, and how the telecoms sector in particular is undergoing its own paradigm shift towards software-based networks and services, and how they must transform themselves - not just networks but their very culture - to survive the current paradigm shift and thrive in the digital economy.
The same can be said for their customers. Or at least older ones like me.
Recently I was telling a 20-something friend about a Latin music group popular in New York in the 1960s. I’d discovered them a decade ago and to this day zealously guard my CDs and the music files contained therein. From vinyl to CDs to Blu-ray, the physical file is my provenance and my pathway to whatever I wanted to watch or listen to. No matter how obscure, as long as I have the file, I can enjoy it.
“Is this the right album?” said my friend, holding her smartphone. As I was describing the music, she’d fired up Spotify, found the music, then started porting it to her Bluetooth speaker.
That moment was a masterclass in how much the content paradigm has shifted. My thought process defaults to “where’s my file?”, while hers goes straight to “where’s my access?” She simply reached into the cloud and plucked the music from it.
I haven’t been Spotified yet, but I’m not totally cut off from the cloud, either. My big cloud experience is via Kindle Unlimited: a rotating ten-book library. I can travel to a city, download a few guides, and when I return from my trip I return the files and replace them with something else. Read it, toss it, get fresh material. Magic.
A subscription-based rotating library may sound like a bad deal for authors who want to make money from sales royalties. And certainly you don’t see a lot of bestsellers on Kindle Unlimited (or indeed much of anything from major book publishers like MacMillan and Penguin). On the other hand, some authors without the grand portfolio of (say) Stephen King or Janet Evanovich slap their novels up on Kindle Unlimited just to gain readers.
Guess what: it works. I spend my morning commute reading obscure pulp-fiction novels (and some aren’t half-bad). Authors frequently include emails and I enjoy dropping the occasional line.
Between that and my friend’s Spotify demo, I’ve come to realize the same experience can be had with music - because if the cloud is good for anything, it makes content more available.
Sadly “available” isn’t the same this as “discoverable” - at least not yet. Discoverability is one of the holy grails of digital content and services, and while recommendations and big-data analytics have come a long way, we still have a way to go before analytics engines can figure out your content tastes with any reasonable level of accuracy and point you to cool stuff you didn’t even know you liked. But we’re getting there.
In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for the fact that the content is there in the cloud, waiting to be discovered - which, again, is a major paradigm shift for music mavens like me who spent a lot of time digging around used record stores looking for buried treasure or half-remembered obscure tunes heard on the radio years ago. In that paradigm, you’re focused on the file, and you go to great lengths to protect it, especially when it’s not commonly available.
The cloud has changed that. Between iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp and dozens of other music services and sites, you can find anything from 60s Cambodian psychedelic pop to Laotian groove, Mauritius funk, Mali desert blues, and Japanese mathcore.
And I’m glad, because rare music being commonly available is a good thing. It took me awhile to catch up with the paradigm shift, but now I realize I was tying myself to the hitching post instead of contacting Uber.