The Internet is a Copy Machine
March 5, 2008 12:51 PM   Subscribe

"When copies are free, you need to sell things which cannot be copied." Kevin Kelly (previously) describes eight "generative" values that increase in value as the price tag on making copies goes down. He also has some advice for creators who want to make money off the long tail. Via
posted by ErWenn (20 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
posted by GuyZero at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2008

My problem with this piece is that most of the uncopiable things that are mentioned with the piece have no coupling with the actual work produced by artists. One doesn't have to create a piece of music to produce a version best suited for a certain living room, they just have to know the science of sound production. An artist won't be the best person to create a storage for all the music and movies you have, easily accessible from any device, Google will be. We give artists a temporary monopoly on the usage of their work to be able to monetize items like the above.

Which goes back to the problem, most of the things that are being discussed as salable take large amounts of capital, in terms of having knowledge workers, or servers and infrastructure. Which is usually owned by large corporations. The future of a copyrightless world has a sharp divide between the creators of work, and those that have to the capital to monetize it. In some cases the necessary capital to do so will be negligable, and within the artists grasp. But books and CDs will still be purchasable through Wal-mart and the grocery store, the only difference is that no money will be paid to the creators, instead of a pittance.
posted by zabuni at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

The future of a copyrightless world has a sharp divide between the creators of work, and those that have to the capital to monetize it.

I thought this was the history of industrialization. How is what you're describing any different from what Marx was on about?
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on March 5, 2008

Authenticity -- You might be able to grab a key software application for free, but even if you don't need a manual, you might like to be sure it is bug free, reliable, and warranted. You'll pay for authenticity.

There's a lot of cracked copies of Photoshop out there that argue otherwise.
posted by rhymer at 1:49 PM on March 5, 2008

There's a lot of cracked copies of Photoshop out there that argue otherwise.

But companies will not generally break the law knowingly. Thus the lack of pirated copies of OpenView or Patrol when those products generate at least as much revenue as Photoshop.

This strategy is also known as targetting customers who are willing to pay.
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on March 5, 2008

Oh I see now, money is in products not art.
posted by Shakeer at 2:26 PM on March 5, 2008

There's a lot of cracked copies of Photoshop out there that argue otherwise.

That are used by individuals that work for corporations that pay for it. If I had a cracked copy, that would make me more valuable to a workplace that used Photoshop and they may be more likely to use Photoshop due to the number of people familiar with the product. It's a circle.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 5:19 PM on March 5, 2008

Zabuni: the way I see it, Kelly is not advocating an optimal situation in which the creators get to make lots of money. He seems to be attempting to describe the situation that is coming into place by virtue of the ease of obtaining free copies of creative content. So it's not so surprising that having a lot of capital gives you a major advantage. Having said that, there are still some ways for creators to make money off of these generatives, most notably from patronage, immediacy, and some aspects of authenticity. Note that authenticity can mean many things to different consumers, and though he focuses on reliability in this article, many people view authenticity as a value in and of itself (thus the increased value of a verified work of art by a famous painter as compared to a really good fake).

Rhymer, it's extremely common for cracked copies to not function properly. While commercial products don't always work perfectly off the shelf, any company that can get their products working very nicely has a slight edge on the pirated versions which are sometimes (but not always) difficult to install properly and occasionally buggy. If you throw in support, immediacy, and some other of Kelly's generatives, you can still make money off of it even when pirated versions are available. And as BeaucoupKevin points out, a professional software product like Photoshop makes most of its profit off of corporate versions, so the pirated copies can sometimes add value by increasing the popularity of the software and the number of people who can use it.
posted by ErWenn at 6:19 PM on March 5, 2008

See also Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business on this issue of Wired magazine, written by Chris Anderson, the man who coined the term "The Long Tail" mentioned above.
posted by Sharcho at 6:25 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Shakeer, unfortunately the money has rarely been in the art...then or now. I think the point here is that, even given the long tail, the money is no longer in the product either, but in figuring out a way to bring people exactly what they want and when they want it, and in the form that best suits them, and/ create relationships that are SO strong, that only YOU can give them what they want. For an artist, it is the latter that makes all the difference in the world. It might be your next best shot at ultimately making some money

ErWenn, this was the most fascinating thing I have read on the blue in a long time. I can only hope that more mefites stop in to give their views on this. Nothing quite like good dialogue or even snarky debate to have things "take form" in individual and collective brains.

I was born and bred in the ole free enterprise system, and it is clear that the current definition of "free" is becoming quite literal. I, for one, am totally fascinated to see how things might unfold. Yeah, I think i get the "long tail", but I am still struggling with the "long term"?
posted by LiveLurker at 6:28 PM on March 5, 2008

This is a really good argument to advance as a platform.

The money never was in art; it was always in artifacts. Look at the pre-digital past of music: The best-case scenario is to be present at a concert by your favorite band, with great tickets in the first ten rows. You directly experience the art, and a small fraction of the band's fans paid a relatively small sum to experience that. The small sum was split with the venue, promoter, road staff, and band members. The band made a sum of money from this.

But they made more money not from the immediacy and personalization of a live concert, at which you could be present, but for the cheaply replicatable artifact of a vinyl record (then cassette, then CD), which could be bought by anyone, anytime, anywhere it was distributed. You toured to support your record.

Today you record to support your tour. You record to build a listener base. You record to bring paying customers into a fold, and then you sell them irreplaceable things.

I have probably seen thousands of Picasso copies (prints, digital images). I even have one on my wall. I've seen his work in my art history textbook, and on t-shirts, and on websites.

So what has compelled me to travel to museums, to pay real money in museum fees so that I can see real Picassos? Immediacy. Authenticity. Accessibility. Findability.

This is an important piece. Is he really the first to have proposed the specifics of a new system of value? It's not perfect, but it's a real step toward figuring out where the hell we go next now that artists cannot survive merely on selling copies of works - which they can't.

I do think he left one point out: community. I think we're more likely to give money, time, and encouragement to entities which give us a social network and sense of belonging.
posted by Miko at 7:00 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

ErWeen: Yes, this is true. But I am not interested in who or what makes what amount of money. The current goal of copyright is that giving creators a temporary monopoly on the usage of their creations incentivices them to create more works of art, and more capital intensive works of art, than if they did not have to the ability to capitalize on the intellectual content of their work. Nations create laws to enforce this because they feel this is true, and that the creation of intellectual property should be encouraged. While models that depend on patronage can also exist, I don't know if that necessary invalidates those who choose the former.

As far as Photoshop, this becomes even less of a case for getting rid of copyright. The only thing stopping companies from pirating it is the threat of mean evil lawsuit by the BSA, whose lawyers are Legion.

People seem to have a blindness in which the current discussion of copyright becomes a discussion of the copyright of music and books by individuals or small groups of people, with copyright infringement by private citizens. The discussion of performing at concerts, selling T-shirts, and making personal connections to fans are all examples of this. How do you perform a video game, or a novel? One might propose they do readings, and sign copies, but authors already do readings and sign copies to advertise and drum up sales for their books.

A response to the above is that video game creators and authors will have to find new ways to monetize content. This reminds me of free trade agreement backers, when asked what will people who lost their jobs due to globalization do, respond that those people can find new jobs, and that with the benefits of trade, all boats will rise. In the long run, this may be true, that a market of free products, monetized by other means, will lead to a larger and more robust creation of art. In the long run, though, we're all dead. A grand dream of a golden future is not edible.

In the here and now, media companies are dying. These are not evil organizations that crush puppies, like the RIAA. They weren't screwing people with terrible contracts, or sending jack booted lawyers to bust heads. They are responsive to fans, have and also give away product for free. "Adapt or die" is rather cold hearted.
posted by zabuni at 8:15 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Believe me, Zabuni, I have a lot of sympathy for those getting screwed over. I have yet to see a system that works better than the copyright system did for encouraging artists to keep creating. It had a lot of flaws, but it was way beyond the previous models centered on old-style monopatronage (one rich patron) and/or non-stop performance. However, I now think that this system is not going to remain viable for much longer. The copyright system just doesn't seem to float well when the concept of a "copy" becomes much less well-defined (amongst other problems). I have absolutely no idea what, if anything, would make a decent replacement. There are a few suggestions out there that seem like they might work out once they're in place (such as micropayment-mediated polypatronage), but I feel like I'm just guessing on whether they would work large scale. Many of these suggested methods require such a fundamental shift in culture that I don't have a clue how they might bootstrap themselves into existence. Kelly's 1,000 fans scheme (oligopatronage? kilopatronage?) is one that seems to require less bootstrapping to be feasible, but it remains to be seen if there are enough megafanatics to keep an entire industry afloat.

Anyway, I was getting off track there, but what I wanted to say is that the climate is changing, and while we might conceivably be able to adjust the direction of change, going back does not seem to be an option. "Adapt or die" is not an ultimatum, it's just a fact (or a working hypothesis anyway). Trying to come up with realistic ways for the artists and media companies to make money (I think that "findability" is huge here, the media companies already have excellent experience getting the word out via marketing) is not cold-hearted. It's the opposite, in fact. It only seems cold-hearted because so many other people seem to be jumbling their predictions about the future market together with their hopes for it. (I'm reminded of Marxism, here. I'm suspicious of any philosophy of the inevitable professed only by people who also want this inevitable to come to pass, which is why I find people like Kelly who can talk insightfully about the future without preaching it.)

I definitely have to agree with you about the screwiness of the Photoshop situation. This way of making money is only viable in a sort of hybrid copyright/piracy world where corporations can't get away with illegitimate copies but private citizens can. Adobe charges so much for a copy of their software (even at the "student price") that no aspiring young graphic artist could afford one, and yet, many industries depend on hiring new people who already have experience with the application. As long as the companies still have to pay, Adobe keeps making money. And the companies can't find people to use the software unless the kids don't have to pay for it. Very strange set-up.
posted by ErWenn at 9:16 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

which is why I find people like Kelly should read: which is why I appreciate people like Kelly.
posted by ErWenn at 9:19 PM on March 5, 2008

It only seems cold-hearted because so many other people seem to be jumbling their predictions about the future market together with their hopes for it. (I'm reminded of Marxism, here. I'm suspicious of any philosophy of the inevitable professed only by people who also want this inevitable to come to pass, which is why I find people like Kelly who can talk insightfully about the future without preaching it.)

Gah, that says what I've been feeling much better than I've ever typed it. It's the excitement over the complete destruction of the livelihood of so many that gives me pause. And the marxian analogy is dead on.

And there are more solutions for other industries. What's the big new buzz word that everyone, even Microsoft, is going for? Software as a service. Adobe will have a web based version of photoshop, and online MS Office versions. And for videogames, look no further than that 8 ton gorilla, World of Warcraft. Similarly, the 1.6 billion dollar video game industry in China is made entirely of online games, because of the massive piracy.

But as they say, the medium is the message. Games that don't match the SAAS won't get made, just like music won't get distributed that can't have a cult of personality built up around it. So if you like Hannah Montana and WoW, things look rosy. And if you like games like Dwarf Fortress and, things are great. The middle ground doesn't look that good. The distribution curve of the future will be steep indeed.
posted by zabuni at 11:41 PM on March 5, 2008

That Kevin Kelly stuff was Greek to me, but I've read the recent Chris Anderson piece and looked-up his previous Long Tail article on Wired's site and it's well worth the read.

It's long past time for the big media conglomerates to pool their resources and create a big, online media aggregator that collects movies, music and books so easily and dependably that people will think twice about using the grey-market resources just because they're less dependable. If

(Besides, everybody and their aunt was leaking their screeners onto the net at the beginning of Oscar season.)
posted by vhsiv at 9:49 AM on March 6, 2008

Big media will do what they do, but I thought I was reading some other suggestions for the little guys into this article. Now granted, this was just how I processed the article, but the message I took away was, that at least in the near term future, success would be built on RELATIONSHIPS. There might be thousands, and perish the thought, even hundreds of thousands, who do what you do, but there is only ONE you. While this works on so many levels, let's just talk about artists and musicians for the time being. Fine, you play or share your music/ art for free, and it is listened to or observed as in the case of art. Nothing new here really. That is just "how it has been" for the vast majority of musicians and artists. Kelly seemed to be suggesting that the thing that will separate you from others is the RELATIONSHIP you build with those who appreciate what you do.

For example, I might like music, and regularly go listen to live music, but the band that is able to relate to me PERSONALLY is more likely to create a kinship or bond that over time may result in my spending some money beyond a CD or a t-shirt... (yet to be determined things). It is the "yet to be determined" that holds out the biggest chance of unexpected and much appreciated income to keep up with your artistic endeavors.

What I thought I was reading was, that as long as "the internet is a copy machine", the more we will all be called upon to be "real" AND "personal" to succeed in the longer term, long tail world.

The thing that differentiates you from all the rest out there who do what you do, is YOU and your ability to build positive RELATIONSHIPS.
posted by LiveLurker at 7:20 PM on March 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agreee - what's missing from the tabulation is Relationships. Pine & Gilmore write awesome books about Authenticity without noticing that what makes something authentic is the reliability of the relationship between experiencer and experience.
posted by Miko at 9:15 PM on March 6, 2008

Actually, Miko, what is missing for most artists is CASH..the greenback. I was only floating with Kelly's view because I don't have a better model.

Kelly says that the difference is in creating relationships... PERSONAL, one on one. Only YOU can meet the need, mr or ms artist.

i buy what Kelly says, and I cry over what he said. Keep in mind that his treatise was not just about artists, but it was about anyone trying to make money.

HOW TO MAKE MONEY when nearly everything is free? No clue here, but it might make sense...

It might make some sense to ask Matt?
posted by LiveLurker at 11:25 PM on March 6, 2008

what is missing for most artists is CASH

Well, the tabulation in the link is about how to monetize art, and what's missing (in my view) from the tabulation is relationships. I think "personalization" is different from "community" or "relationships." Personalization as he discusses it is about customization. Relationships, as I mean it, is about becoming part of a community of many people who share a way to inter-relate over something they all enjoy.

Artists needing cash is nothing new - it's been that way since patronage and shamanism faded from prominence. It's really incumbent upon artists to figure out how to get money for what they do, if that's what they want and need in order to create more art.
posted by Miko at 5:04 AM on March 7, 2008

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