Is content king? Or is it the delivery system?
That's a question that a Guardian media columnist asked. He uses the widely publicized release of Beyoncé's latest album, back in December, as an example.
It was released without advance fanfare on iTunes, immediately snapped up -- apparently a million copies sold within a week -- and then, according to the writer, David Hepworth, it disappeared from the cultural conversation.
His reasoning is that because ballyhoo around a new release is much faster people move on much more quickly. It isn't the material that matters as much as the means of delivery, and our ability to find what we want when we want it.
But perhaps, as some of the comments on that post said, it wasn't the speed of the availability of Beyoncé's recording that led to its short shelf life, as it were -- perhaps it simply wasn't that good, in their opinion. (The article wasn't about Beyoncé, but cleverly used her to bring readers in to the post, which was about content delivery versus content itself.)
I cannot agree that we've come to a time when your search tools are more important than what you're searching for. I know that ease of delivery is important. But people don't sign up with Netflix to sign up with Netflix. They want to watch House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black or they want to try to find something from Netflix's rather unimpressive library of movies (it's shocking how little it actually has that you'd want to watch).
HBO's HBO Go service didn't crash during the premier of its hit Game of Thrones simply because people wanted to use HBO Go. They wanted to watch -- surprise -- Game of Thrones. The same thing had happened a month earlier with the finale of HBO's True Detective. And the same thing applied. It was the content, not the delivery system. HBO's HBO Go enables multi-platform viewing (and sharing). But it would be useless if no one wanted to use it to watch, you know, content.
People who use torrent sites to find films or television or music or even bestselling e-books aren't on those sights to demonstrate their technical savvy or a sort of digital lawlessness. They search for things because they don't want to pay for them, or they don't want to wait for something to be released in their own country.
Similarly, YouTube is a powerful content provider. But if no one wanted to watch these videos -- so many videos, so many resources - would anyone be on YouTube simply to be on YouTube? YouTube isn't the end result, it's the tool for results.
Mad Men and Game of Thrones (especially Game of Thrones) may be widely pirated, but that hasn't stopped people from talking about them. They are truly part of the national -- even international -- cultural conversation. That's because they speak to people -- that's because the content is interesting and thought-provoking.
No one starts a conversation saying, "I love downloading." They say, "Did you see what happened?"
It's always content.
Follow Michael Drew on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PromoteABook