Book Review: The Storyteller’s Dilemma: Overcoming the Challenges in the Digital Media Age
by Louis Hernandez, Jr., CEO Avid Technologies
As Artists and Content Creators, we all sometimes need to be reminded of the old adage, “There’s a reason they call it Show Business” lest we forget that our Industry lives at the intersection of Art and Commerce. When that relationship is out of kilter, both interests may suffer. In this insightful book, the CEO of Avid Technologies, Louis Hernandez, Jr., gives a macro economic analysis of the forces that are currently making it so difficult for Art and Business to thrive.
Although Mr. Hernandez is the CEO of Avid, make no mistake by thinking that this book is designed to promote his company. His position does, however, give him a unique perspective since Avid touches so many facets of the Entertainment Industry, from motion picture post production, and broadcast operations, to music creation. Hernandez does draw on this experience as a technology executive, and also from his background as an author on the subject of economics and finance. His previous works include, Too Small to Fail: How the Financial Industry Crisis Changed the World’s Perceptions and Saving the American Dream: Main Street’s Last Stand.
In this book, Hernandez distills the many types of Artists and Content Creators into the broad category of “Storyteller”. Whether musician, filmmaker, actor, or painter, we all endeavor to communicate a story through our work, and he makes the point that such a need for expression is likely a part of our DNA going back even before our ancestors were drawing on the walls of their cave dwellings.
I can tell you first hand as an Indie Filmmaker that it has become extremely difficult to earn a living as a Storyteller, and that is the heart of the dilemma referred to in the book’s title. Hernandez makes the case that the ever increasing pace of technological change has disrupted the models that have long served as the foundation where business redeems value by distributing the work of Artists, which in turn supports their work to keep the wheels of content creation churning.
We probably saw this first in the digitization of the music business, where the sale of physical media, once the bedrock of the recording industry, has quickly been eclipsed by digital delivery. As this industry struggles with piracy and trying to find new methods of monetization and delivery via such means as streaming, it has become much less profitable.
Hernandez points out that this is the case in pretty much all areas of content creation: “Because of instant low-cost (or no-cost) access, each individual work whether it’s a song, a film, a broadcast or a book, has low perceived value….There’s also an expectation of “free,” which makes it harder to convince people to part with their money or willingly make the traditional tradeoff between exposure to advertising and the content they want.” I would add that the democratization of storytelling tools has led to a glut of content, further lessening the perceived value of the product.
When corporations are squeezed for profits, they draw back from investing in, and developing, new talent. Motion picture studios, for example, feel compelled to invest in remakes and sequels with only proven “bankable” talent in an attempt to reduce their risk. They tend to devote scarce resources to marketing rather than to creating original material potentially leading to a dangerous downward spiral.
Further pulling resources from what might otherwise be invested in creative pursuits, businesses are forced to spend considerable sums in an effort to keep up with new technologies. Infrastructure upgrades are frequent and costly, and a lack of Industry standards leads to a lot of needless duplication. An example he gives is the ridiculous number of various deliverables necessary to currently deliver a television program by way of the many incompatible delivery channels such as broadcast, cable, the web, and recorded media.
Although Hernandez presents an alarming scenario, this book is not all gloom and doom. The last section of the book is entitled “The Time To Act Is Now,” where the author presents a number of actionable suggestions such as adopting standards and sharing technology services via the web. According to Hernandez: “The future can be bright, the industry can be profitable, and the storytellers who are so much a part of our lives can be properly rewarded for the wonderful contributions they make.”
About the Reviewer: James Mathers is a veteran Cinematographer, and the President of the nonprofit educational cooperative, The Digital Cinema Society, a group dedicated to the industry’s informed integration of new technology, as well as a regular contributor to a number of industry trade journals. Find out more about DCS at: DigitalCinemaSociety.org