Four Pillars: On misses and hits

There’s been some reaction to the musings I put forward in preparation for my next recap, particularly on the topic of caching-versus-long-tail; you can find the post and its comments here; Kevin Marks has some very worthwhile comments and links in his post as well. Thanks everyone.

The entire conversation made me think harder about hits and misses, how they are changing, what I think it means. So here goes.

First off I want to endorse and support what Kevin says, because I think it’s important. I quote from his post:

….we are moving to a world where we upload as much as we download

Just park that somewhere for now.

Let’s move on to hits and misses.

For sure I’m influenced by all the people I speak to, and all the stuff I read, so I have no precise idea where I saw the kernel for this snowball. But the way I look at it, today’s web paradigm, with search and discovery and tagging meeting collaborative filtering and social networks, and underpinned by the Kevin statement on uploading, this paradigm is all about misses. Not hits.

Hits are fundamentally abundant, and they need the application of a variety of devices to make them artificially scarce. Some of those devices are applied by hit originators and publishers: an example is the signed numbered “subscription” edition that precedes the abundant hit book. Some of those devices are applied by producers and distributors: an example is the staggered release of new films into different geographies (repeated in similar staggered releases into rental and purchase, aided and abetted by stupidities such as Region Codes). I could go on, but won’t.

Hits are fundamentally abundant.

[An aside. I think there is a link between the device of staggering film releases across geographies and the phenomenon of poor-quality piracy. There’s a bragging-rights aspect to watching a hit film. People want to be first. And where there are artificial blockages to being first, routes like piracy become attractive. If people want to reduce piracy, they could just do away with region-staggering. Just an opinion.]

Now let’s take misses. Misses are fundamentally scarce. Short production runs. Remaindering. Deletions. Out-of-print-ness. Whatever. And what the web does is allow us to create micro-markets around these misses, magically making them abundant again.

Now that’s a pretty pass. On the one hand, attempts to create artificial scarcities around abundant hits are failing. Leaving abundance. On the other hand, the natural scarcities implied by misses are being transformed into micro-market abundances.

Misses were fundamentally scarce. But are now abundant.

Both hits and misses become abundant, in markets where many business models were built around scarcity.

There is a difference. Hits can stay abundant in the physical as well as Digital Walled Gardens worlds, all broadcast models and DRMed-to-death distribution and simultaneous releases to global megatheatres and stuff like that can support abundance. Of a sort.

So people can and will go to the cinema to watch hits and turn on the television to watch hits and and and.

But with misses? The story is different. The ONLY place where misses can become abundant is in the micro-markets of the web. Long-tail don’t scale.

So over time I think, particularly for uploads and downloads of film and video, there won’t be a short fat head. The Snake On that Plane will be all tail. This may become true for books and songs as well, as the micro-uploaders get to Main Street.

It may just be possible that we can leave hits to their traditional and fossilised methods of delivery and distribution, and stop worrying about caching and bandwidth congestion; as the “bragging-rights-I-saw-it-first” become less important, people will choose how they want to access their hits.

What we should do is concentrate on the misses. It is in turning that scarcity into abundance that we create something of real value. Which is why I supported the abortive Google scan-everything moves.

Let me know what you think

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