The Unfulfilled Promise of Disintermediation

For almost ten years, the shift to individual producers gaining market access without intermediaries (aggregators) has been consistent and in many ways complete – or has it? Crowd sourcing of content for commercial use is certainly commonplace nowadays, with amateurs and novices competing directly against established pros. This shift didn’t outline the absolute death of a middleman or broker, but it did redefine who it is and what it does.

Where There Were Many, Now There Are Few

Platforms that specialized in crowd sourcing took significant market share away from smaller and medium sized aggregators, essentially homogenizing product and automated what once was a high-touch and value-add process of product creation, by shifting responsibilities from the aggregator onto the producer. Aggregators essentially flattened their costs while foisting product development aspects like keywording and retouching, and stopped working directly with producers (no one can oblige a 1:1 relationship with a crowd; it’s simply not scalable).

Where There Were Few, Now There Are Many

At the same time, access points to new product became fragmented. Google Image Search became a leading  method of sourcing product, circumventing aggregators altogether. Sites like Photoshelter, Photodeck, Livebooks and other targeted professional tools allowed anyone access to compete outside of agencies/aggregators, expanding the scope of available content to the market. Consumers were faced with an endless repository of possibilities, instead of a known group of go-to solutions.

Gap In Market Knowledge

While finding product now might be easier in a flat environment, the circumvention of the aggregator for the benefit of direct consumer to producer is not without costs. Obtaining rights, negotiating payment and all the administrative hassles that aggregators provide (not to mention massive risk mitigation for consumers) now falls upon the shoulders of the consumer, who not only become de facto in house experts in the matter but are also dealing with producers that might not recognize what they’re doing, thereby increasing the risk to the consumer.

Meet The New Middleman…You

Shifting the load of content acquisition from aggregator to consumer means assuming the roles inherent in an aggregator, and more importantly the time involved in administrating these tasks in house. There’s a reason why aggregators existed before, during and will continue to exist despite trends in disintermediation: no one has the resources to stay ahead of endless tasks, business issues, not to mention the multitude of business relationships required to procure the best product; doing so certainly encroaches on the domain of the aggregator, but at the expense of the deviation from the consumer’s core business.

While the promise of disintermediation in the media licensing industry remains wholly unfulfilled, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.

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