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Tuesday, 22 March 2016

R.I.P. the Business Model? Biz Jargon

In the world of business strategy, jargon and buzz words are a handy currency.  'Business model' has been part of the lexicon as a solution to the woes of digital media industries and copyright infringement since 2000. But the term seems to have fallen out of favour in copyright discourse in recent years.  So where are business models now?

Jargon is a funny thing.  Every profession has jargon. Eavesdrop on a business call on a train, and you'll get phrases like 'boil the ocean' and everyone's favourite, 'think outside the box.'  In other words, 'try to do too much at once' and, 'be creative.'  By using jargon, the speaker signals that they belong to a particular group and are in-the-know. Are business models simply jargon?

Google trends graph for "business model" 2004 - now
Business model is not a popular term in the summer!
'Business models', a fairly vague concept, became popular with the dot-com boom in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  “A business model describes the rationale and infrastructure of how an organisation creates, delivers and captures value.”(Osterwalder and Pigneur, 2010) As digital technology transformed costs, advertising, information availability, sales methods etc., the secret ingredient to success was the *business model*. Internet speeds quickly caught up with digital media file sizes, and copyright-infringing sharing of media files became popular. Business models became the great white hope of exploiting copyrighted content and saving media industries on the brink of collapse (the sky is falling!).  If only firms could get their business model right by tweaking say, pricing and delivery models, it would all be hunky-dory.

Since the early noughties, business models in music have evolved significantly, but not to the benefit of everyone.  It is also unclear what impact business models are having on copyright infringement. Music downloads, dominated by iTunes, are now giving way to subscription services such as Spotify. Music looks like a success story in adapting to digital, but it's not proven that business models have made the difference rather than factors such as overall business strategy and economies of scale. Companies other than Apple, Amazon and Spotify might disagree that the changes have been successful.

Google trends graph for "business model" and "copyright" 2004 - 2016
Copyright is becoming less popular
Taking a closer look at words, your Katonomist delved into the world of Google Trends. Using Google Trends, users can search the relative popularity ('interest over time') of particular search terms over time. The results for 'business model' suggests the concept's popularity has generally been flat since 2004, but has gained momentum in recent years. [Merpel notes the regular dips you see are August and December, when 'business model' is replaced by 'margarita' and 'eggnog.']

Looking at 'business model' and 'copyright' and things get interesting -  'copyright' as a search term has decreased from a relative popularity measurement of 99 in 2004, to 37 in 2016.  There doesn't seem to be link between the popularity of copyright and business models. [Merpel, stroking her whiskers sagely, suggests readers may enjoy looking at the results for 'patent troll' and '3D printing.'] Could it be that copyright too is a former buzzword?

Viewing 'business models' and related terms (e.g. freemium) as simply jargon may explain why business models haven't been the panacea we hoped.   Instead, business models, "glorified all manner of half-baked plans." (Michael Lewis.) We shouldn't then be surprised that it's fallen out of copyright discussions. R.I.P. the business model.

Of course, if you really want to use the new lingo, you should be peppering your speech with 'unicorns,' and "dead unicorns.'  All the cool cats are taking about amplifying their IP, and their plans to ladder up SPCs into the IP ecosystem. Just don't mention copyright! [Merpel thinks this discussion should be taken offline. She's going to have breakout sessions with her C-suite mice.]

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