How do we protect producers in the long tail?

Scott Karp has a couple of recent posts about online video distribution — one about users wanting their money, and one asking, who will make money online?

Boiling down what I think is the essential point here is that there is a class of content producers who create content hoping for some sort of financial gain, and those are the producers who stand to lose the most through YouTube distribution (and lose even more under the new YouTube license).

Previously, I’ve written about the long-term threat to YouTube, which is copyright owners insisting on enforcing their rights. This thesis focused on the assumption that it would be large media companies who could do the most damage, but also conceded that maybe large media companies would withhold prosecution of claims because of the promotional value of distribution on YouTube.

But there is another class of content producer who has legitimate economic hopes for his content, but limited means to protect his copyright.

For the purpose of this post, I want to define three classes of content producers.

1. MSM Producers. These are the big guys, including everything from The Daily Show and Colbert Report to SNL, Charlie Rose and old sitcoms. I would also include in this class content producers tied to larger concerns, such as a small newspaper producing video to supplement its coverage (though this is a very niche interest) or a retail business doing podcasts around its products.

2. Long Tail Producers. These are professional or semi-professional producers who are motivated to create entertaining or informative content not just because its fun, but because its what they do, or want to do, for a living. They fill niches and subgenres and might break through to the mainstream, but that’s not where they are now.

3. Social Media Producers. These are people with a camera, or a microphone, or a keyboard who just produce because they can. They do what they can with the tools at hand with at best only a passing regard for quality. They may have dreams of viral fame, but mainly just produce stuff because they can. Falling within this category may be students of content production with aspirations of moving up into category two. Some of these producers may be very good (especially among writers), but produce for free simply because they love what they do or a topic or niche of keen interest.

If you’re a category one producer, you would really be foolish to have YouTube pull your video. YouTube is just really free marketing, and you have alternative and reasonably secure channels of revenue around your content. And if you’re a category three producers, then you love YouTube (or MySpace), because it gives you a chance to reach a larger audience than you could ever reach through your own personal home page.

For the long tail producer, the situation is far more complicated. It is much harder for this class of content producer to derive direct economic benefit from YouTube. The promotional value is nearly nil since every pair of eyes that watches your video on YouTube is one less pair of eyes not likely to see it on a site that generates revenue for you. And those eyes are not likely to migrate to the paying site because they know that pirated versions of your work (if its good enough) will eventually appear on YouTube. Still, YouTube is so popular right now, if you are completely unknown within your niche or genre, YouTube could launch your career.

Long tail producers play an essential role in the future of online media. We need a method and ethic that protects their rights to derive economic gain from their work. I’m not sure, however, the users who copy and distribute the work of others can ever be sold on the need for that ethic.

Also, related — Scott Karp figures out that 3 million bloggers
want to make money

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