The Future of Digital Content Distribution


For a long time, content has been distributed through more traditional mediums: Physical interaction and exchanges that took place either in person or through the mail. Regardless of the method, however, content was usually never “free” for taking or exchange. With the introduction of the Internet, however, this changed entirely: For the first time in human history, content as a whole could be easily acquired, downloaded, and exchanged with only an Internet connection and some Internet know-how.

Although many content distribution mediums still require some form of payment, the ability to easily exchange files online has led to a loss in revenue for content producers such as the entertainment industry. As a result, companies have had to take unique approaches to distributing content in a way that allows them to make money without encouraging illegal exchanges or “piracy.” These trends – as well as many recent events – have made predictions of a future with more “open” content distribution methods far more plausible; in fact, such a future may be here already!

Content Distribution Prior to the Information Age

Before the information age, content came primarily in the form of newspapers, magazines, books, cassettes, records, CDs, video cassettes, and much more. For a long time, however, these forms of content were exchanged through a more traditional content distribution system: Physically acquiring the item through a transaction or exchange. Although it was still possible to acquire these items free of charge through friends and individuals, a physical “hand off” – be it in person or through the mail – was still required.

In other words, there was no way to legally “take” an item without consent. This gave content creators a far tighter grip on what they produced: Since there was usually no better way to acquire content such as music and films than to physically purchase them, content creators were almost guaranteed that everyone who used their content would have paid for it in some way.

While this lasted for quite a long time, the introduction of the Internet would lay the permanent foundation of future content distribution.

Online Content Distribution

Looking at the online world today, the introduction of the Internet was relatively humble by the comparison. The principles, however, were still the same: Virtual file distribution across multiple interconnected consoles. As the Internet grew and evolved, however, so did its capabilities. The ability for users to host their own “space” online coupled with the file distribution principle eventually created a small network of individuals who exchanged files and content – such as music, movies, and books – without having to pay for anything but their Internet connection. This eventually grew into modern “piracy,” which involves the illegal download of copyrighted materials.

For the first time in decades, content distribution was a much different game: Many people were easily getting content free of charge through the Internet. Although this trend has resulted in revenue problems for many industries, it has simultaneously provided the world with a solution to the problem and a new method of distributing content.

The Not-So-Far-Away Future: “Open” Content Distribution

Although many companies have attempted to prevent the distribution of copyrighted files online, a majority of their attempts have been unsuccessful and sparked unrest in many online communities. Facing such opposition, many content creators are beginning to embrace alternative forms of digital content distribution.

One of the most successful of these forms follows in the footsteps of people like comedian Louis CK and independent game developers, who have released much of their work at a very appealing price: Whatever the customer wants! In the case of game developers, the approach taken by the Humble Indie Bundle has been incredibly successful: People paid anywhere between $0.01 up into the thousands for the exact same package of games. Many content creators – especially musicians – have followed in their footsteps.

In some ways, however, content creators are often reluctant to follow this trend. Many of them would like everyone who uses their content to pay for it, but cannot avoid the inevitability that people will independently exchange content regardless. As a result, the future of digital content distribution looks far more open than it ever has been: Mainstream content will be readily available through more “accessible” prices that come in the form of either a self-determined – or small – one-time fee or a regular subscription.

This article was contributed by digital delivery experts CD Technical.

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