Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

By Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

I’m going to let you in on a secret: You’re sitting on a gold mine of content that is just lying around hogging up server space. Some of it may even be hidden in physical archives, concealed in printed documents, or stored on microfiche.

A gold mine, you say?

Yep. A big, untapped source of revenue just waiting for someone to claim it. If you’re smart, you’ll tap it as soon as possible … before your competitors realize they should be doing the same thing and beat you to it.

The music industry is missing some rich opportunities for making money

Let’s consider the music industry. Apple revolutionized the biz by making it possible for music lovers to easily and affordably (and legally) download music to MP3 players, devices that didn’t exist just a decade ago. Yet despite Apple’s overwhelming success, the company — and its music industry partners — are still missing some rich opportunities for making money.

Further examining what works well with iTunes, the online mall sells individual songs (10 billion so far), collections of songs (albums), music videos, movies, television shows, books, apps, and other entertainment content. The songs sold on iTunes are made up of smaller components of content referred to as “tracks.” There are vocal tracks, bass tracks, percussion tracks, horns, and so on. Tracks are mixed together to create discrete versions of a song. There might be a radio version, an instrumental version, a karaoke version, and various remixed versions. This approach has been successful. It has allowed publishers to make revenue by recombining existing tracks into new versions customized to be attractive to various audiences.

However, as good as it is, in our socially-enabled world of user-generated content, this approach is no longer sufficient. Today, music lovers aren’t just playing songs, they’re remixing them into their own original music products, called mashups, without the assistance (or permission) of the music publishers.

Mashup artists combine tracks from a variety of sources. They scour the web for pirated files, digitize analog recordings they own (snatching songs from vinyl, cassette tapes, and other media), and use software designed to isolate and separate the tracks that comprise a song. Not surprisingly, they’re doing this without the permission or involvement of the copyright holders.

[See: The Making of a Mashup Compilation: Aurally Volume 1 and Understanding the Value of Modular Content Reuse by Examining User-Generated Music Mashups.]

While mashup artists see their remix culture as fair use — a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work, is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders — most music industry pros say mashup artists are thieves, violating copyright by using stolen, unlicensed material.

[See Transmutability: Digital Decontextualization, Manipulation, and Recontextualization as a New Source of Value in the Production and Consumption of Culture Products].

The whole situation is a giant failure on the part of the music industry to see a great new opportunity and monetize it. However, I see another way that benefits everyone.

Here’s the model I propose: Music publishers should alter licensing agreements to allow for distribution of individual tracks. By doing so, publishers create an entire new music offering: buy a song for 99 cents or the song plus the individual tracks for $1.99. By adding these products to the mix, music publishers open up a whole new revenue source.

With a few tweaks to the licensing agreement, user-generated mixes would go from illegitimate to legitimate. Apple could add a remix section to iTunes and allow users to upload their mashups for other users to purchase. Apple could use its “genius” technology to recommend mashups. Using this model, the original copyright holders, the original artists, iTunes, and the mashup artists could all share in the profit. A win-win for everyone.

Mashups are an untapped source of revenue. But for how long?

Apple could make the deal even sweeter by adding mashup mixing software to iTunes (Google Japan has rolled out a very basic browser-based mixer), making it easy for novices to make new audio (and video) mashups and publish them legally to iTunes, providing yet another new source of revenue to everyone involved.

This model could work outside the music industry too. Book and magazine publishers, movie studios, newspapers, museums, photographic archives, and other content producers could provide similar access to their content. They could make agreements with other publishers (even competitors) to provide access to a collection of content components for customers to use and repurpose legally (for a fee).

It’s time for us to break from the old-school idea that our content components aren’t marketable until we weave them into products. It’s clear that consumers want the flexibility of repurposing our content assets, and we need to seek ways of monetizing this desire.

Chances are your organization is filled with discrete content components ripe for reuse. Spend time figuring out how you might leverage these hidden assets. Think outside the box. Enlist the help of your customers. You might be surprised to find there is a gold mine of content right in front of you.

[Note: Check out the Facebook fan page for DJ Scott Abel, The Audio Wrangler. Let me know what you think of my mixes and mashups.]