$9.99 a month for all your digital marketing? Maybe.

English: The iPod Family. iPod shuffle, iPod n...
iPod shuffle, iPod nano, iPod classic and iPod touch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no secret that things change. The trick, however, is in recognizing change and responding. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find was to turn change to your advantage. Today’s world sees our globe shrunk to a smallness almost unimaginable to our parents just a generation ago. While that has presented challenges, it’s also brought rewards. Cultural awareness and respect is critical today, and yet business markets are now global for even the smallest of businesses in many cases. Change happens with our without us, and it’s impact can be deep and farther reaching than we might imagine. Could how we buy music today be a factor in tomorrow’s decision to outsource skills?

Today we live in a world where vinyl, the 8 track, the cassette tape, DAT, the compact disc, digital downloads and streaming can all claim to have been THE modality of choice for a given generation. My parents still have some of their original 45s, and I’ve even started collecting a few “important” albums on vinyl myself. 8 track collecting is a bit of “a rage” nowadays, and if you’re of a certain age, I bet you still can lay your hands on a cassette tape. While I played with DAT a bit, let’s toss it aside like a dusty Betamax, shall we?

CDs are still very prevalent, though long gone are the days of music stores in every mall selling $25 compact discs.

Today’s world is of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and myriad other streaming services.

I suspect that as time moves forward we won’t see more consolidation on the hardware side of things. I mean, what’s more convenient than a digital download? Quality is decent, portability is near limitless and storage is cheap enough to make housing a big library easily feasible by most people. So the medium won’t really change, though accessibility speeds and ever cheaper storage may see changes in delivery moving forward.

iTunes and streaming spelled the end of bricks and mortar music stores, by and large. And while cheap bandwidth and storage is posing a threat to services like iTunes (why buy when you can rent?) what won’t change is the desire to access the latest and greatest music.

Streaming however, has given rise to a whole new way of accessing and discovering music.

With curation the buzzword and services like Spotify, for example, gaining millions of users – many of whom are willing to pay, are the days of buying an album coming to a close?

Maybe, but that’s not what really interests us here. No, what we need to pay attention to is how there has been a shift in buyer behavior.

In the early days, and even continuing through today, we bought albums. We bought a complete set of work. An album, with an average of between 8 – 12 songs on it. Even if we only wanted one song, we got the rest. For a brief period through the 80’s and 90’s there were “singles” available on cassette and CD, but it wasn’t really until iTunes entered the market that chunking up an album went mainstream for consumers.

Being able to buy a single song from that band you “loved” gave rise to the earliest forms of curation. (You could argue the promise found in “ripping” CDs imbued us early adopters with the “curation” bug, which itself stemmed from “mixed tapes”, but as you travel back, you see this is less mainstream and a more niche activity.)

iTunes also taught us that our music didn’t need to cost $9.99 an album.  It could cost $0.99 a song.

At that moment, we realized our dollar bought us much, much more.  It bought us exactly what we wanted, not “what we wanted plus a bunch of other stuff”. And for a while – years, this fueled the desire of consumers to buy, manage and enjoy music “their way”. The music industry, by and large, supported this, as it simply shoveled money into their pockets as Apple taught the world how to consume music in a new way.

The a few of funny things happened. Not HaHa, funny, but somewhat ironic, funny. As things so often due, they changed again. Cheaper bandwidth, mobile penetration and cheap storage all came together in an almost perfect storm. The result? Streaming music services became not just viable, but certified money makers.

And they followed a trend. While they took their time maturing into what we know today, alongside them grew an entire galaxy of apps, which introduced the notion of “freemium” to our phones, encouraging us to either consume content WITH ads, or for a modest fee, you could have an ad-free experience.

Today’s music lover is in a virtual nirvana. With massive music libraries at their finger tips discovering new music has never been easier. Crowd-sourcing means thousands worldwide can build music collections that millions can access, enjoying and discovering as they go. Music can be sifted by type, genre, mood and application easily now, letting a listener click their way to the perfect score for a given activity.

Offline? No problemo, just download the playlist for offline listening and keep the party going when you’re off the beaten path. Thank you again cheap bandwidth and storage!

All that for a mere $9.99 a month. For what I used to pay for an “on sale” CD in college, I now pay to access millions of individual songs globally. And while my collection of aging, plastic CDs will eventually break down into…whatever CD dust looks like, my digital copies will/should last long after I’m dust.

If we look at the growth of monthly, fee-based music services, the numbers can be impressive. If we expand that view across all monthly, fee-based services in action today, the numbers become staggering. The real gem of knowledge, however, is in how consumer today have been trained to react to payment for these services.

It never would have occurred to me in my youth to pay for a monthly music service. Indeed, if you recall “Columbia House”, they used to send you all manner of stuff for one low monthly price.  It was mostly junk, with the popular music at higher prices and usually excluded from your monthly selections. It was a decent model for the times, but today, I can pay a low fee, get what I want and be delighted by the discovery of new, related things.

Consumers have been trained that they can access quality products for low monthly rates.

What happens then, when that person goes to work?

Might they start thinking in terms of that same model, a model that works very well in their personal life? You bet. The rise of outsourcing follows this. Access to a variety of skills at lower prices. and like the fidelity of the music we download and stream, the quality might be a bit less, but in terms of the overall big picture, it’s still workable.

Might today’s inhouse SEO turn more towards outsourcing when they are promoted to tomorrow’s SEO Manager? Will they see the value in outsourcing an entire team and cutting the costly cords of internal staff, just like cutting the expensive cords of cable and landline phones?

This action may accelerate even more, shortly. As the engines get better at crawling, and coding issues of the past are overcome, the need for more technical SEO is lessened, shifting the focus more and more towards content in a variety of forms; towards the user’s experience. If the engines continue to shift to new trust signals, as they have for over a decade now, what happens to entire industries of work (I’m looking at you, link building.)? I’m not suggesting either will go away completely, but I am suggesting we could see a bigger shift in values, and thus in focus.

And with mobile forcing it’s own shift in thinking about content presentation like never before, how long is it before we’re truly a mobile-first environment? Does “seo” simply start again in the new paradigm of mobile, or will we leapfrog from past learnings and move straight to “survival of the fastest to adopt”? Will the adoption of new platforms (responsive design and HTML 5, for example) be more accelerated in our near future as businesses see those moves as a competitive advantage? (Albeit a short-lived one once everyone starts shifting.) Marking up content is nothing new, yet so few actually do it. You see the engines using the data, yet it seems to be not enough to drive deeper adoption. At what point does it become worthwhile? When your competitors start? When you’re the last without it?

Consumer have been taught that for a few bucks a month, the world can be theirs. Search is feeling the demand of these consumers and adjusting by removing clicks from the path, showcasing what they know is relevant and by implementing new systems to better understand intent. Mobile, Schema, content optimization – these are no longer things you need to get to work on. if you’re not already working on them, you’re behind.

Digital marketing skills are a unique compilation. Real success comes from hands-on work, not so much from school. Indeed, employers want people with proven track records. Years of experience. They want people who can hit the ground running and delivery proven results. More and more we see the dream of “remote work” going away as employers seek to ensure their hires are the real deal.

I know plenty of people in this industry who work remotely. And they’re solid. I mean, they have years of proven experience and easily have the skills to help any business to success. These people are also expensive to hire due to their applicable skills. And they’re worth every penny, IMO.

But this micro-payment lifestyle we’ve adopted as consumers?

If more people grow into their careers and their lives are built around $9.99 a month for the things they value, are we going to see them making decisions in business with the same line of thinking? Will this force the cost of skilled labor in the industry lower? Will it continue to feed the less-skilled, but optimally priced alternatives? Time will tell.


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