Doorknobs as Media

When’s the last time you paid for a song? Could we soon ask the same question for tangible goods?

For years, I’ve been saying that every company is a media company. 3D printing could make that more true than ever.

Media makers have to deal with people getting their creations via illicit copies without paying. Soon, 3D printing of objects will get to the point where someone can take pictures of something they like, and print them out for themselves. No muss, no fuss. No purchase!

Tweet from Ad Age, Lowes' DoorKnob Printing

Like your friend’s silverware set? No need to ask where they bought it. Just take some pix and print the knives, forks and spoons out at home. Or, maybe we’ll ask, “Mind if I copy and print out your dress (shoes, handbag)?”

Lowe’s lets customers print parts in multiple materials. That means the home improvement chain could confront  some of the same challenges media companies have for years: Who is taking their “content”? How much money will they lose when someone hacks the design and lets people print the parts at home?

Traditional music companies like Sony and EMI have lost billions of dollars in value due to music fans’ reticence to pay for songs and albums. Many media companies now consider some level of bleed simply a cost of doing business, though some like Netflix are fighting the theft. It’s now unusual for artists to make a real living from music sales. Even the likes of Taylor Swift, in her recent tiff with Apple over the attempt to give her music away, referred to her ability to make a living from performing, not music sales.

And if retailers are letting people print parts, how long is it until people can get those parts — and lot of other items — without going to the store, or ordering from any retailer? How much lost revenue will that mean? Yes, there are plenty of technical hurdles today, and 3D printing is hardly the norm. But long-term (and maybe not as long term as we think), companies that have never had to worry about protecting intellectual property will confront the  same kinds of loss as media companies have for years.

We’ll be confronting a whole new level of “social sharing.”