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Gerd Leonhard is releasing his new book in weekly chapter installments. It’s called ‘The End of Control’ and you’ll be able to get it free from his website before it’s out in paperback.

Leonhard, if you’re not familiar with his work, is behind another book entitled ‘The Future of Music‘ and is one of the proprietors of a rather clever music promotion/distribution/retail widget called Sonific.

He’s a smart man and, from my own experiences of him, a very nice one.

But it worries me that he is taken so seriously. By all means read his book and mine it for good ideas, of which I’m sure there will be many. But please, for goodness sake, do not believe everything he has to say. He has seized upon several surefire methods of being completely and utterly wrong in every important respect.

Here’s a quote from his press release:

The End of Control (EoC) book expands on the key topics introduced in my previous book “The Future of Music” while escalating the debate out of the music realm and into media at large. EoC addresses the single most important issue underlying many debates about the future of media: who controls what, why, when, and where, and how can digital content still generate revenues when most of the traditional ways of controlling its flow (i.e., distribution) are no longer available. In the book I will argue that in the future, controlling distribution is replaced with earning, receiving, and maintaining attention; that in media’s future friction is fiction; and that the “people formerly known as consumers” now literally run the show.

I believe that this radical shift will require media purveyors to switch from a “push” to a “pull” approach. Pointing out ways to monetize digital content in the future, I will reveal the bold new paradigm that has been dangling in front of our noses since the advent of the Web browser: by letting go of our obsession with control, we receive new streams of revenue and plenty of growth opportunities in return.”

I agree whole-heartedly that control is one of the key issues behind the trouble with copyright as it stands now is that corporations have been using it as an instrument of control, rather than as an incentive to creativity.

But — I’m sorry — “reveal the bold new paradigm”?!

Generally speaking, I think that distribution has become problematic for people used to making their money by charging for access to media content. I don’t think this means that the future will involve everybody making access free to all people at all times.

It’s the worst kind of technological determinism: the idea that shifts in media technology MAKE things happen. New technologies do certainly create environments within which different ratios of effects are possible — even encouraged. But media shifts are always socially negotiated. The internet doesn’t decide what happens. People do. And people can be unpredictable.

And yes, strong technological determinism irritates me, because it’s just sloppy and narrow thinking. But what pushes my buttons even more is the idea of ‘futurism’ (to which I bring the same skepticism I would bring to a crystal ball gazer at a carnival). Anyone who claims to be able to predict a future based on current trends and trajectories is pretty much guaranteed to be wrong. The world is full of unexpected and unintended consequences.

You can only look at where we are now, and make intelligent decisions based on a clear understanding of what actually surrounds us. Making business decisions in the music industry on the basis of where we’ll end up sometime in the future is fraught with difficulty.

First of all, we won’t end up anywhere. Things don’t arrive at some completed state. They continue to change.

And second, the idea that we are currently going through a phase of confusion and complexity, in which different people do different things, and that eventually people will act in a coherent and predictable fashion is obvious nonsense.

Leonhard seems to have been fully sucked into the idea of ‘the people formerly known as consumers’ — or, as he puts it ‘usators‘ (shudder), a combination of the words ‘user’ and ‘creator’. It’s a reasonably fashionable and somewhat totalising fiction based on deeply lazy thinking.

The concept is, simply put, that because consumers now create their own media and engage with the objects of consumption in a more active way, they are now all going to be a new category of undifferentiated ‘pro-sumers’ (let’s pray the term ‘usators’ doesn’t catch on).

Let’s just overlook, for the moment, issues of education, economics and culture. And let’s also leave aside the idea that the ways in which we engage with media changes from moment to moment.

Sure, sometimes I want to remix a song I’ve downloaded or blog about something that happened in the news. Sometimes I want the freedom of infinite choice. But sometimes, as Douglas Adams once put it, ‘I just want my mother to put a plate of food in front of me and tell me to eat it’.

Perhaps worst of all, Leonhard imagines some sort of utopian society where media has been fully democratised. Power relationships no longer exist between producers and consumers, control over the means of distribution is no longer a factor and frictionless markets allow anybody who wishes to make and sell music and media to effortlessly create and distribute, all for one easy monthly payment of five magic beans.

It’s tempting to try and guess where things are headed and try and jump ahead to the final chapter in the book, but can I please encourage you to do the harder thing, and examine in detail where your business is at, where your customers are at, and the opportunities afforded you with the technology that is currently available.

We’re not going to be wearing silver jumpsuits, eating meals-in-a-pill or flying around in jetpacks any time soon, as nice as that is to think about.

I apologise that this makes me as cross as it does. I have nothing against the man personally, and a lot of what he says is insightful and based on some very good analysis of current factors.

But beware: he’s selling snake oil.


That all said, the idea of relinquishing control over access as a strategy to ‘generate new streams of revenue and growth opportunities’ is a reasonably sound concept. Forget about this as a totality of music business. Let’s ask the more important question: ‘How could this work in your specific instance?’