Jonathan Trumbull Taplin is an American writer, film producer and scholar. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio and has lived in Los Angeles since 1973.
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I am the Director Emeritus of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, and a former tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, as well as a film producer for Martin Scorsese. I am an expert in digital media entertainment, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I sit on the California Broadband Taskforce and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Council on Technology and Innovation. My new book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy was published this year, and tells the story of how the largest Internet platforms used the music, news, and film industries to build their businesses to scale only to sideline them, and the millions of Americans who work for them.
I enjoyed the questions. I'm signing off now.
What is the craziest thing you have found in your research?
A smartphone accelerometer can be used to collect data on Parkinson's disease, without the users consent. If that was shared with health insurance companies it would be terrible
How have the music/film/news industries changed since the rise of Facebook, Google, and Amazon? And is there any impact on me as a regular user of the internet?
Music revenues have fallen 70% in ten years. Newspaper revenues have fallen by 75%. There are 50% fewer people making a living as a journalist now than there were 10 years ago. The New York Times may be doing well, but chances are your local newspaper has the staff to root out corruption in City Hall
Do Patreon or Kickstarter offer realistic opportunities for artists to make some revenue?
Perhaps. But I'm not sure most artists want to consider their work a charity. I think they would rather make money from their work.
How has the influence of Apple, Google and Apple changed creativity in music?
I think YouTube makes it harder for a musician to make a living from their recordings. 1 million downloads from I Tunes would yield $900,000. 1 million streams on YouTube would yield $900. It may be that musicians just need to tour to make a living, but in a world with 5 billion smartphones, that doesn't make sense for me.
Who did you side with, Robbie or Levon?
I didn't pick sides. I do believe that Robbie wrote almost all The Band songs after Big Pink on his own. However, the fact that Levon could not get any record royalties after Napster arrived and he got throat cancer is a true tragedy. Np one in 1969 understood that only the songwriters could make any money after 2000.
Any insights on Richard Manuel's death, and why he did it when he did?
Richard battled alcoholism most of his life. Then cocaine and heroin arrived and just made everything worse. So many musicians have battled these demons. I'm not sure I understand why. I remember Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all leaving us in a short period of time. So sad.
Can the genie ever go back in the bottle in terms of these companies' control?
These companies are in the business of surveillance capitalism.So data is the new oil. 110 years ago Teddy Roosevelt took on Standard Oil, because it was obvious that there was no market solution to Rockefeller's rapaciousness. Maybe the government has to use existing antitrust law on a company like Google that has 88% market share in search advertising.
Can you trace the origin and evolution of the famous "Don't be evil" motto?
Google positioned itself like a social venture corporation at the outset.Now it's the second largest company in the world (by market cap). It is one of the least transparent companies in the world and makes most of its money free riding off the content of others. I think they realized that "Don't be evil" was just too ironic, so they dropped it.
What does the future hold for content creators?
They have to get back control over the distribution of their work. If that happens, I'm pretty confident that a good business can be made for everyone. Imagine if you made an indy film and could sell it for 50 cents to 5% of the 5 billion people who will have smartphones by then end of next year. That would be $100 million dollars of revenue.
Any memories of Robin Williams or Shelley Duvall?
Making the Faerie Tale Theater, and especially The Frog Prince with Robin Williams and Eric Idle directing was a blast. To watch Robin improvise was truly a wonder. He never did any take the same. Drove the script supervisor crazy, though. Shelly was amazing. The whole series came out of her mind and her phone book.
Has Marketing had an overall negative impact on society?
Surveillance Capitalism is just beginning to explore the frontiers of marketing. The Google Home, with its always on microphone, will push the boundaries of privacy and "predictive marketing". Their idea is too anticipate your every desire, and hopefully surface some desires you didn't even know you had. Two weeks ago Facebook said they were close to letting you write stuff, by just thinking it. If they can read your mind, who knows where marketing will go. I'm not sure its all for the good.
Just one point of view, but as a participant in both of those kinds of relationships from the consumer side I definitely don't consider it charity. They are getting my money in exchange for the things they produce.
I didn't really mean to knock Patreon, which I think is building a good platform. What i meant to say was that the music business should be self-sustainable from it's own economics.
What is the weirdest entertainment industry story you've witnessed firsthand, but when you tell other people about it, they don't believe you?
I suppose it revolves around trying to get Eric Clapton on stage at The Concert For Bangladesh. It was a week long series of frustrations and insanity, that ended well, but almost didn't happen. Eric has been pretty honest that he was not in the best of shape, health wise in the early 1970's. The story is probably too long to tell here, but it made me want to go into a different business. so I went to Hollywood and made Mean Streets with Marty Scorsese. And of course that led to producing The Last Waltz with Robbie Robertson, which was almost just as crazy.