Book Review: “The Storyteller’s Dilemma—Overcoming the Challenges in the Digital Media Age”

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When your job involves content creation, it’s easy to fall victim to tunnel vision. Producing competitive video and/or audio that will win the race for eyeballs can become all encompassing. Simultaneously honing your craft while tracking the big picture can feel exhausting, if not impossible.

The Storyteller’s Dilemma: Overcoming the Challenges in the Digital Media Age (Hal Leonard) is a new book that strives to make sense of the complex environment that today’s content creators are operating in. Written by Louis Herndandez, Jr., the Chairman and CEO of Avid, the tome’s focus is on bringing necessary perspective — and a road map — to audio professionals, video producers, and media companies (big and small) who are in the trenches.

“The Storyteller’s Dilemma” is available now on Hal Leonard.

Hernandez is able to cull his observations from a unique vantage point, overseeing the publicly-traded company that’s responsible for the audio profession’s ubiquitous Pro Tools platform, as well as industrial strength video production solutions such as Media Composer.

To Hernandez, users of such tools—whether they’re made by Avid or its competitors—are all “storytellers” in one way or another, and he breaks down who these storytellers are and the critical function they serve in society: writers, videographers, whole communities, solo Tweeters, producing content rich and minimal.

Their output is distributed worldwide via platforms that are proliferating at a dizzying rate, with unprecedented feedback available in the form of both emotional audience response and cold hard data. According to Hernandez, the basic human need for connectnedness is at the root of it all.

The Dilemma  

But with all the possibilities come dizzying complexities for the storytelling process, which leads to the title dilemma that Hernandez observes: Even as stories become easier to tell and the amount of content explodes, earning money in the field is becoming harder and harder. Making things tougher still is that while the value of a mega-hit can be huge, the payoff for everything below the top tier becomes that much more questionable.

By way of self-help, Hernandez urges readers to look in the mirror and answer fundamental questions, chiefly “What is my place in the media value chain and what value do I bring? Why am I here and why do I matter?” To point the way, The Storyteller’s Dilemma is split into four sections: “In a Digital World, We All Play a Part,” “How Did We Get Here?” “Why Things Work the Way They Do — Or Do Not,” and “Where Can We Go From Here? A Vision for the Future.”

Extremely well-researched and plain-spoken, The Storyteller’s Dilemma can feel dense and a little dark at times, but Hernandez didn’t write the book to be a cheerleader for the media industry. To the contrary, he’s got a vested interest in seeing the fortunes of his current and potential customers rise.

The Race for a Cure

Among the salves Hernandez hopes for are digital workflows — which have been the ultimate disrupter in content production — that make the media value chain more efficient, instead of more complex. He says, “If we could start fresh in an environment where the entire connection can be digital, we would probably create an entirely new process with fewer steps, fewer handoffs, and a more streamlined integrated approach with fewer connections that separate the storyteller and the consumer. The emerging digital channels provide a clear example where, from creation to consumption, things can be more streamlined and simple.”

He also drills down to the evolving role of specific functions like metadata tagging, “With content being repurposed, repackaged, redistributed and resold in endless combinations, the legal complications of compensating rights holders can quickly become unmanageable. Digitization has added a new twist, because through metadata it is possible to embed information in digitized assets that enables greater accountability and oversight.”

Such examinations of the storyteller’s digital ecosystem, where the problems lie and what can be improved through a concerted effort, can be found throughout The Storyteller’s Dilemma. Taken together, the work Hernandez has done here provides an excellent picture of the media universe that creatives and founders are currently working in, helping to re-orient the reader for a much-needed overview of the world in which they’re operating. The author also gets some help from his friends, culling inset “Storyteller Perspectives” from members of academia, directors, producers, audio editors, composers and much more along the way.

Frank and sobering, The Storyteller’s Dilemma addresses head-on the challenges that are facing content creators — and therefore affecting the consumers they serve. But despite the storm clouds Hernandez looks ahead to an optimistic future that he believes is within reach, one where creativity and profitability are equal partners in the storytelling process.

  • David Weiss


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