Unless you're under a rock, you're probably aware of the online protests against SOPA: the Stop Online Piracy Act. (If you actually are under a rock, sorry to hear it but you still need to read this.)
I'm completely against SOPA for the reasons outlined here.
But this post isn't really about SOPA. It's about how the protests against it demonstrate an essential -- but poorly understood --- difference between traditional and digital media.
Traditional Is A "View" Medium. Digital Is A "Do" Medium.
The difference between screens is blurring fast. TVs have apps. We watch TV on iPads. Only a truly dumb phone isn't a hand-held computer.
But at heart, there is an essential difference between TV and digital.
TV is a "View" medium: for the most part, we turn to it for entertainment.
Digital is a "Do" medium: for the most part, we turn to it to do something.
What We Forget At Our Own Peril: User Intent Matters
TV is an unmatched ad medium for brands because huge numbers of people turn to it for entertainment. As a user, I'll give my attention to whatever entertains me. If what happens to entertain me is an ad, that's OK.
Why? It's part of what I came to the medium for.
A challenge in digital media is that people are often trying to do something. Every user knows that the important "do" stuff is in the middle of the page, and the unimportant "view" stuff (the ads) is at the periphery. This leads to Intentional Blindness, but… that's a different post.
What Traditional Media Got Wrong About SOPA
Traditional and digital media each have unique strengths. But for mobilizing people to act, digital trounces traditional.
The entertainment industry went on TV to make their case to the public. But, they forgot everything they know about what makes good TV.
They forgot talking heads are boring. They forgot complicated stories fail. They forgot to entertain. It was a numbing fog of corporate "pity me" and legalese.
The entertainment industry was Hosni Mubarak on state TV explaining why oppression is actually good for you. The digital industry was the Egyptian people.
But even if you thought they right, what were you supposed to do? How? They forgot to harness the power of "do".
What the Digital Industry Got Right
By contrast, the digital industry kept the story simple: censorship will break the internet.
Then they harnessed "View" and "Do".
For "View" there were videos and blogposts everywhere instantly, outlining the issues.
For "do" digital distributed tools everywhere to fight back. Craigslist offered a stunning range of online protest tools, as did Google and the ACLU. There were iPhone apps and sites to track the members of Congress for or against.
You couldn't swing a dead computer mouse without hitting a free online tool that made it fast and easy to protest. And social media made it easy to spread the word. Reddit created an entire SOPA sub-Reddit. And at its peak, there were 270,000 Tweets about SOPA and PIPA per hour.
When fast, coordinated action is needed, "Do" beats "View". And if you need to rally support for a cause, nothing beats "View" plus "Do". Make me care and give me the tools to act on it. (Cause-related marketers, please take note.)
Postscript: Anti-SOPA Is Not Anti-Copyright
We can hate SOPA but still support copyright. I firmly believe that stealing is wrong, and that content owners must have recourse when people steal their property.
The issue is what kind of recourse. Should we empower our government to shut down any American website if someone links to copyrighted content?
No way. Imagine a government that feels threatened by "Occupy Wall Street" and worries about an American version of the Arab Spring organizing on Facebook. Under SOPA all that would be required to shut down Facebook is to find someone linking to copyrighted content. If no content can be found, it's easy enough to upload a piece of content by creating a new account.
Better Anti-Piracy Solutions
SOPA doesn't solve the industry's problems, and it creates unintended consequences that put us all needlessly at risk.
Existing legislation already offers content owners recourse for U.S. piracy. For overseas piracy, OPEN is not perfect, but it's a good start at a better idea. Digital is a mixed bag. It incredibly easy to publish creative work and offers infinite points of distribution. But it makes it easier to steal and harder to monetize.
Steve Jobs proved that most people would not steal if there were an easy, inexpensive way to buy the content they want. But many content companies continue to get this wrong. For example, often the Kindle version of a book is just as expensive -- or more expensive -- than the printed copy. Wrong. The production costs of the Kindle version are radically lower. No dead trees, no truckloads of heavy books. And yet – higher prices. Stupid pricing is no excuse to steal. But it does suggest content owners are clueless about this stuff, or believe that we are.
When Does The Real Revolution Start?
We need to make buying digital content so easy and so cheap that it's easier to buy than it is to steal.
That's the real revolution I want to see. I want to get past fighting the things that are bad; I want to see the world creating systems that work for everyone.
Tom Cunniff began his career as a copywriter at traditional agencies, founded an interactive agency in 1994 and now works on the marketing side creating and integrating traditional and interactive. All of Tom's opinions are entirely his own. Tom can be reached at email@example.com.
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