What Quibi’s Failure Can Teach Musicians in the Era of Superabundance
How the Internet Toppled the Old Guards of the Entertainment Industry
You may have heard of Quibi, or read one of the 400 articles written about how Quibi raised a monumental 2 billion dollars in capital, but odds are you have not subscribed to Quibi. That’s because Quibi is doomed to be a very expensive failure. Luckily, their misstep can serve as a powerful lesson to independent artists.
If you aren’t familiar by now, Quibi is a content platform that launched back in February focused on bringing Hollywood-level content in short snippets to your mobile device. The ad-free subscription costs $8 a month, which grants you access to their small collection of shows whose episodes last no more than 10 minutes. Despite the platform’s perverse funding it has struggled to attract many subscribers. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the founder of Quibi, has been a very successful operator in the old Hollywood-Studios-decide-what-you-should-watch model, but he clearly does not understand the scale of disruption caused by the internet. Katzenberg appears to have missed the fact that the power of the internet brings more to our society than streaming on pocket-sized devices. What he has failed to realize is that the internet is slowly destroying an underlying assumption about content distribution — that we need someone to curate content for us at all.
Let’s talk about the role of the A&R — historically, the music industry’s curation expert. Back in the day, there was immense value in being able to predict a hit before it was released. After all, the major labels could only afford to create so many records. Their distribution partners could only ship a finite amount of product to stores, where there was a limited amount of shelf space and even less endcap display space for priority records. Brick and mortar retail required major capital to build and maintain; there was always the issue of efficiency in terms of optimizing the number of stores in a given area relative to population. This delicate system valued people like A&R folks, who could help throttle the flow of product into the marketplace. Music, in other words, was limited by supply, reach and time. But no longer. The internet has brought the cost of distribution down to zero and extended potential reach to infinity. We now live in an era where anyone who is creating and releasing music can instantaneously reach billions of people at zero cost.
The most valuable skill is no longer knowing what will and will not be a hit, because content creators can simply release everything and let the audience determine its success. Instead, the value is in knowing how to harness that same disruptive power in order to capture people’s attention in the new era of superabundance.
When I think of all of the music at our fingertips, I think of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the ark of the covenant is being wheeled around a massive top-secret government storage facility, where it will likely be lost to humanity forever. It’s overwhelming to think of a space so big that it houses ALL of the music for everyone at once. With so much music to peruse, how do fans sift through and make sense of the cacophony of choices? How does an artist make a prospective fan focus long enough to convert them into an actual fan?
In my next article I will discuss what any content creator can learn from hip hop artists about engaging and capturing the attention of your future fans.