Hefflaumps & The Changing Media Industry

Everyone knows what a heffalump’s like
It’s got fiery eyes and a tail with a spike
With claws on its paws that are sharp as a tack
And wing-a-ma-things coming out of its back

‘Cause its bottom is up and its top’s really down
So its nose is its tail or the other way ’round
Yeah, and it’s wide as a river and tall as a tree
Imagine gigantic
And times it by three…

It was a rough Saturday. The kids woke up in shoot-to-kill mode, 6:23 AM. Ben is 5 1/2, as he proudly tells people. Nic “the lick” is 3.

We’re not the type of parents to use the TV as a babysitter, but today we really needed a break. And our babysitter cancelled, of course. Our weekend was starting off very badly. So, the Mrs. & I scrambled on what to let the kids watch in the evening, if we survived the day. They’re all Pixar’ed out. Searching…

My wife chirped up, “how about Fantasia?” It’s mellow, musical. There’s the scary wizard but we can get through that. But we don’t own it, and it’s not on iTunes or Netflix. Searching Target’s website for a quick in-store DVD pick up — Nada.

And that’s when she spelled,”How about the H-e-f-f-a-l-u-m-p M-o-v-i-e…?”

My five year old figured it out immediately, and the house was like Shea stadium for the Beatles. “YEH, YEH… The HEFFALUMP MOVIE!!!”

The movie never existed until my wife borrowed the soundtrack from the library. Now, our minivan bumps it daily. I said, “Ok, I’ll look, but don’t get too excited.” The kids know sometimes things aren’t on the computer, and I know Disney is behind the times.

Heffalump Movie.

Netflix? Nope. iTunes? Nope. (I always forget about Amazon’s streaming service — I realized later, it was there, as a rental) So to Google, and there it is. The full version on YouTube. Oh…thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now, I know no one is making money on the YouTube version, well except maybe YouTube. And tomorrow it will probably be gone (even though it has a million hits) once the piracy software kicks in & recognizes it. I get it.

I used to LOVE Napster not because I wanted to steal music, but because in two clicks I could have any song I wanted. So, the music industry got obliterated until Apple came along with a 2-click solution. Today, when I buy music, I use iTunes & Amazon instead of Tower and Sam Goody. And here we are again, at the precipice of the exact same conversation with the Movie and TV executives.

The Stop Online Piracy Act was (good riddance) supposed to stop pirating, to protect an industry. It won’t, rules like these can’t — the technological genie is out of the bottle. And, as with Wall Street and rules like these, all someone will do is simply put 100 lawyers & accountants in a room to figure a way around it. And then they’ll get caught, and we’ll make another rule…

At the end of the day it’s our social norms that allow this charade to continue. Otherwise none of the 100 people or slimy politicians would participate to begin with, but social norms are slow to change, over time in a feedback loop from our little experiments with life & society.

What SOPA-esque rules will do, however, is bring back all the fond memories of the music industry suing 12 year olds. Yeah, nothing like the threat of jail time & huge fines to win the hearts & minds of your consumers & fans. The fact is, once something has become a social norm, the only thing that will stop illegal behavior is providing a legal option. Prohibition doesn’t work, social norms do. And don’t lump this in with the War On Drugs thing, I’m talking about a kids’ movie here. And Wall Street is anything but normal.

SOPA was big business, backed by Movie & TV studios, funded by huge lobbying for a congressional crack down. And I understand. Just like the Buggywhip lobbyists in the days of yore. Can’t you just imagine them trolling the halls of the Capitol? Wining & dining, lining the ears (and pockets) of congressmen about the ills of the automobile.

TV & Movies are arguably the last media towers standing. Book publishing & (most) newspapers are dead, they know it. And after Thursday’s announcement from Apple, it’s all but official. When 90% of textbook producers in the US gladly fall in line with Apple, in one fell swoop, you know that the swirling sound from the drain ringing in their ears is louder than one from the cash register.

The music industry’s reluctant foray into the digital world proves that there is still a viable business for access to ALL of the content we want online, cheaply & legally. I’ll gladly pay, especially today.

And yes, the studios won’t make as much money. Yes, stores like Target & Walmart will eventually lose a nice revenue stream. Yes, the local video rental stores continue to shutter next to neighborhood grocery stores. And yes, people will want to sit at home in front of their flat screen instead of driving and paying through the nose to see some of the drivel Hollywood pushes out. But that’s what happens in an economy, things change & lives get disrupted. It’s a painful part of creative destruction, but an important part of the growth process. And just like wrangling my kids today, we have to know which battles to choose.

It will be painful, but remember it was only 10 years ago that the music industry was flipping out — and now it’s finally recovering, albeit on a smaller scale. But the shift also gave artists more voice & control. That’s the way of the world. Those middle class jobs we had 20 years ago are in China now, and “they’re not coming back…” as Steve Jobs told President Obama about Why Apple builds its products in China.

It’s a different world.

So industry leaders do what you must, but when we do go searching, it’s ultimately your choice: the $30 DVD I can’t get tonight, when I need it most. Or admitting that Heffalumps do exist & we want one now.

ht: Josh Brown’s fantastic weekend writing provided most of the links for this post.