As a member of The Freelance Exchange of Kansas City, I was privileged last week to attend a very interesting meeting at which our special guest was Derek Donovan. Donovan is the Public Editor for The Kansas City Star newspaper. As our special speaker, he shared numerous insights about the fascinating ride taken by The Kansas City Star as it has navigated various transitions in adapting to the Internet age.
At one point, while entertaining a variety of questions from the group, Donovan offered an absolutely fascinating thought about what might have been. We had been talking about how the Internet has changed the publishing world, the art world, the music world, and how creators and consumers have chosen to adapt by relying on free content. Donovan then said that he believed that if all the artists, musicians, and publishers had gotten ahead of the online train, consolidated their strategy as a coalition, then there would be no free content. Everyone today would be paying for all online content and nothing would be gratis. To me, this is quite mind-boggling for two reasons:
- If Donovan’s idea would have been correct, then the outcome would be so very different than where we are at today. Can you imagine everyone willingly paying for all content in all media? Perhaps creators would be much wealthier and consumers would be much choosier. Perhaps it would have worked. I am not saying that it is hands-down impossible, only that we would be in a very different world today.
- It is hard for me to comprehend how the outcome could have been any different than what we have today. Although I understand in theory Donovan’s speculation, I somehow cannot imagine that it would work in the long run. At the most, I think that it would have simply delayed by a few years or a decade what has happened. Part of my basis for taking that position is simply the infinite variety of ways in which creators have reinvented themselves or their business models to make things work in this new environment. I also think that this has dovetailed with the sharing trends we have seen in our economy and society.
It is always interesting to ponder what might have been. In this case, perhaps it teaches us and prepares us for negotiating some of the next seminal developments, whatever they might be. Then again, maybe not. One thing we know for sure though is that some genies will never be put back in the bottle.