Welcome To Toggle Economics

Mitch JoelPosted by

What happens when you have access to everything all of the time?

The other week, Quartz published a fascinating article called, The economics of streaming is making songs shorter, in which they analyzed the data and noticed that musicians (from multiple genres) seem to be recording shorter and shorter songs, as time wanes on. Some assumptions are that streaming services pay the music rights holder per play, so the artist that can get more plays may be better off (if you’re Kanye West, why not make two 2 minute songs, instead of one that lasts 4 minutes?). It seems like the financial incentives are in place to make this a factor. With that, there is no definitive data that this is the case. Some think that it’s because consumers have a shortened attention span. If you look at the data, this theory falls short as well. People still read long books, movies are longer than ever before, and while humans have always enjoyed a quick burst of content, the reality is that people spend hours with entertainment (and other forms of content) daily (see usage of Fortnite for some perspective, where the medium is six to ten hours weekly). 

It’s more about the consumer’s ability to toggle in and out.

That would be my “a market of one” guess. We live in the toggle economy. How many browser tabs do you have opened right now? How many apps are you switching between on your smartphone right now? How quickly do you click on and off of YouTube videos, instead of waiting for each one to end? We have given ourselves access to everything, and we have it whenever we want it. I recognized this behavior in myself, as I switch from reading books on my iPhone’s Kindle App to purchasing a Kindle reader. Suddenly, the isolation and single function of the Kindle reader somehow managed to keep me more focused on the book, instead of the ease of toggling into something else on my smartphone. 

It’s human nature to think that there’s something better just over there.

Think about the last time that you were at a networking event. The bigger the event, the more attendees, the more likelihood you would find yourself (or others) constantly looking to see who else was in the room to connect with. Think about your behavior when you click on a news item. Do you immediately dive in, or is your attention diverted to the other headlines, or related items in the content feed? How often have you done a search for something online, and then completely forgotten about the entire action, because you quickly jumped into your Facebook feed for just a second? We used to skip radio stations when a song came on that we didn’t like, and we used to do the same thing with television. Those seem like very linear actions in the evolution of this toggle economy. Now, it just seems like we’re always exposed to every channel – at the same time (and with content everywhere). We no longer move on, we toggle back and forth between pieces of content and apps and platforms and types of media. How often have you left the television on, but started multi-screening with your smartphone? Where was your true attention focused? Maybe somewhere in between?

Songs may be getting shorter, but it’s not because of streaming.

One could probably argue that books are also getting shorter. It seems like in a world of so much access and so much toggling, the content creators are simply trying to give consumers more. It’s not (necessarily) having an impact on quality, but the quantity seems to be amping up as time goes on. We see movies being released faster to the theatres with sequels quickly happening, along with streaming releases and a compression of drop dates. Authors seems to be banging out more novels, because the ability to publish has changed so significantly. Maybe musicians simply feel the same way? They can drop an album (or a song) in a myriad of ways that is completely different from how things worked in a more analog world. Toggle economics seems to bring access to anything all of the time, with quality content coming from creators who are amping up the quantity to mine for attention. Great things can immediately be distributed to anyone almost instantly. There’s something there.

That makes this all seem like the creators are actually pushing this behavior more than the technology. It could also be a chicken and egg scenario. What do you think?