image Rupert Murdoch has been in the news lately for his strong stance against content aggregators such as Google News.

Interestingly, it seems his daughter Elisabeth does not share his views on content “theft”. In a speech to the NATPE national TV conference, Elisabeth Murdoch recently stated that some piracy may be inevitable.

"Fans remain the best salesmen of our content, even if that behavior is on the borderline of piracy. Danger of the new world is that we must concede that we’ll lose some control."

Murdoch said that social networking might be the key to making media less prone to piracy. If a media experience is “irreducible to a single file,” it becomes much harder to pirate.

This puts me in mind of a TechDirt post I saw lately, linking to a blog post by filmmaker Ross Pruden. Pruden talks about the change digital media has brought about in the way we consume media now.

We are used to thinking of media as physical objects: a book as bound sheets of paper, a movie as a video cassette or DVD. But Pruden reminds us that what we’re really buying when we purchase those things is not the physical object, but the experience of consuming the media embedded within that object.

Pruden writes:

The key to the Digital Age is to recognize that many existing products already embed intangibles, which is why those products are still being bought. However, once those tangibles stop being offered, or a competitor offers better intangibles, the customer will go elsewhere.

This comes back to what Elisabeth Murdoch was saying about making things “irreducible to a single file.” More and more over the last ten years, canny media producers have been using social networking dimensions of the Internet to help promote their products. Perhaps the best-known examples were the Augmented Reality Games: “Cloudmakers” for the movie A.I., and “I Love Bees” for Halo 3.

These games went beyond simply advertising their associated media; they made participants feel as though they were participating in an aspect of the media itself. And that may be what Murdoch was getting at when she said:

“Social networks are finally the interactive dimension of storytelling. We now need to evolve with our audience. To resist this would be like resisting Technicolor.”

Perhaps book publishers should take a cue from this. If you want to extend e-books, add some kind of special bonus, don’t be limited to thinking within the book itself. What about creating some kind of external tie-in that you access by buying the book (an on-line role-playing environment, perhaps?), or that encourages you to buy the book after experiencing it?

Even this has been tried at least once. Author Max Barry created the NationStates web game to promote his satirical novel Jennifer Government. While I can’t say how well it did that, I can say that it worked on me—I bought (and quite enjoyed) the book.


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