Occasionally I read The Register, where I am likely to encounter disparaging references to “freetards,” that is, people who think that all digital content should be free. Whether it should be free I don’t want to speculate, but I agree with Cory Doctorow that business models are changing, and some old ways of making money will not make money in the future.
It is a mistake to waste money and time trying to convince consumers that they don’t own what they physically possess, which has been the primary objective of the entertainment industry for the last hundred years.
Never mind that a hundred years ago most of the “content creators” of today would never have been able to make a living creating the kind of overprocessed, oversold, overpriced, imitative content that floods the book, magazine, newspaper, music, and movie (theater) markets today. That isn’t to say that imitative content wasn’t created then; it’s just that I think it was harder to make money at it, so all the writers and performers had to work harder. Being able to create and reproduce physical copies of a performance broadened markets and allowed the mediocre to flourish on the strength of advertising and distribution networks; the same is true of the acceleration of production innovations in publishing.
But every time the technology advanced, it pinched the people who profited from the previous advance, and then they started whining about their “right” to make money. Supposedly the problem with the freetards is that they think they have a right to deprive others of making money. Well, the problem with the creators/marketers/distributors is that they think they have a right to create an artificial market and then have it propped up by government regulation on the premise that someone is trying to steal their livelihood.
It relies partly on an artificial estimation of disposable income as well. Since the expansion of credit markets in the US after 1945, the US consumer has been trained to overestimate their disposable income by gradually accruing more debt and accepting more monetary inflation. This is part of a general strategy to grow the “consumer economy” at the expense of the “producer economy.”
The net result is that, eventually, people realize that it is not in their self-interest to pay $17.99 for a CD that costs the recording company $1.00 to manufacture, which the consumer could copy for free from a friend onto another CD costing $0.50. Personally, I am not going to spend more than $20.00 per year on new music, so I could either buy one new CD, three used CDs, twenty iTunes downloads, forty eMusic downloads, or a $20.00 mp3 player and an indefinite amount of free promotional music. Of all these options, the only one that the RIAA wants me to do is the first, because they have a stupid business model.
I say, let’s tighten up the government DRM regulations until the last paying music consumer has been strangled to death and the recording companies go out of business. Then the music industry can start over from scratch with an emphasis on live performers doing the real work of performing. It didn’t seem to hurt sales of Grateful Dead, Phish, or Hayseed Dixie tickets that they allowed live bootlegging.
This is the same philosophy I have with regard to movie production, book publishing, newspaper publishing, and magazine publishing. Let them go down screaming if all they can do is abuse their customers’ intelligence and charge outrageous prices for mediocre quality. Let the government squeeze everyone by subsidizing these failing businesses and driving even more customers away until the whole rotten structure falls apart.
Eventually, they’ll learn their lesson: “There is no guaranteed income.”