Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Post Copyright World

So I've thought for a little while that copyright is more or less going away whether we like it or not. How, then, do creative people make money by entertaining us? The same way they did before audio recording or the printing press were invented -- live performances and generous patrons.

But the patrons don't just have to be wealthy aristocrats these days. I think what happens is, you release a couple of titles -- books, albums, whatever, for free. Build up a fanbase. Then you hold the next work hostage. You set a fundraising target, and you release the work once that target has been met. If you have millions of fans, your target can be millions of dollars. All of them will contribute five or ten. If you have a couple hundred fans, your target can be a couple hundred dollars. Someone who's really eager will contribute extra, or talk their friends into joining in, to get the next work out that much faster.

These schemes are starting to show up, and I'm interested to see whether they take off.

Here's a site where you fund investigative journalism. Once a story gets enough funding, the investigation gets done. I might actually try this.

One of my favorite essayists, the Real Live Preacher Gordon Atkinson, has proposed to publish his next book this way.

Maybe I can get research funding this way. Want me to work on this idea for a fiber optic vibration sensor I've got? Send me five bucks. I'll start when I get to $10,000...

6 comments:

Simon said...

This could work for the "big" players - the well-known bands, the bestselling authors.

However it's already been demonstrated by a few people that even this isn't necessary.
Cory Doctrow has released a number of his books as ebooks under Creative Commons. IIRC he has observed that those books contribute more, not less, revenue than the ones with traditional licensing. People who buy the ebooks and like them sometimes buy the traditional books, sometimes recommend the book to their friends, sometimes go and buy his other work in dead-tree format - and sometimes simply send him donations as a thank you for the book they enjoyed.

I'm not sure whether this work for all genres and all media as well as it does for science fiction writing.

The bands and the authors don't want restrictive licensing - it's the publishers who want that.
As Doctrow and others have observed, for 99% of creators the problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity, and anything which can get them better-known (such as their work being passed around friends) is worthwhile.

The reason that piracy has suddenly appeared as a big priority with the publishers? Sure, the scale of it has increased a bit with the internet, but I'm not sure it's by all that much - where kids can swap tracks over the net, they used to be able to swap tracks on cassettes in the playground. The big change is that it's now easy to find the culprits (even if not accurately), and so suing them is easy money.

Ahruman said...

The question of how creative people will get paid makes a very important assumption: that piracy hurts sales. It’s an easy assumption to make. However, the research clearly indicates that it’s wrong.

Some studies show that the positive effects of piracy – increased exposure, people pirating stuff and then buying it – distinctly outweigh the losses. Others find that they more or less cancel out. I have yet to see a single study published in full that finds the losses dominate (there are a small number of private studies cherry-picked by the publishing industries, but so few that they mostly rely on making numbers up without any basis at all). This pattern is true for music, movies, TV, and books (where there’s less useful data to work with, since books can’t yet be copied with high fidelity). Software is a bit shakier, but that sector has been subjected to piracy for as long as it’s been a business.

This positive picture is reflected in the overall growth of the entertainment market. Over the past ten years, as Internet piracy of things other than software has become an issue, expenditure on culture has increased all over the world. Despite diversification in entertainment (notably the growth of the ’net itself and video games), and despite constant complaints of a growing crisis, this has been reflected in almost every sector of the entertainment market, from theatre to film and even to music; while it is true that sales of recordings, especially on physical media, are declining, the music industry as a whole is booming. The recording industry wants you to believe they are the music industry, but they’re not; they’re a peripheral piece of infrastructure.

And that pretty much sums it up: the infrastructure is changing, becoming smaller, with the distance between consumer and producer being broken down as expensive publishing equipment becomes irrelevant. People are still interested in paying for culture, they just don’t need the middle men anymore.

Incidentally, this is not about copyright going away. Historically, copyright has been about the relationship between creator and publisher, not about what consumers do with the products they’ve bought and owned. The application of copyright to consumers was a temporary aberration, which will indeed go away sooner or later. Removing that, and the other aberration of ridiculously long protection terms, will bring copyright back to a healthy state where it aids the production of culture rather than corporate dominance.

Sylvia Ly said...

Thank you for your post on Spot.Us and crowdfunding in general. It was interesting to read about it from the perspective of a user rather than a professional in the industry. I recently wrote about Spot.Us on my blog and discussed its potential as well as its weaknesses. I noticed the recent trend in community funding as well, and although it seems to be a great model to apply to journalism (especially since it could potentially fuel citizen journalism and really bring up the quality), I question how willing people really are in contributing money to get an article published. You mention that one of your favorite essayists decided to print a book through crowdfunding, and I am wondering if you contributed money to his cause? You also said you are interested in trying out Spot.Us -- is that through donating money or pitching an idea as a writer? Because you seem to be a propagator of the concept of crowdfunding and show interest in participating, I am interested in your thoughts on your own willingness to contribute monetarily. After all, our generation grew up on easily-accessible and freely available content as well as information. Do you think people will really be willing to pay $10 for an article they may not see in days or even weeks?

Mary said...

I question how willing people really are in contributing money to get an article published. You mention that one of your favorite essayists decided to print a book through crowdfunding, and I am wondering if you contributed money to his cause?

Not yet, because he hasn't decided whether he's really doing it yet. But if he does, yeah, I'm in for $20 or $30.

You also said you are interested in trying out Spot.Us -- is that through donating money or pitching an idea as a writer? Because you seem to be a propagator of the concept of crowdfunding and show interest in participating, I am interested in your thoughts on your own willingness to contribute monetarily.

So far it's all a little too San Francisco focused. If the proposals become either more targetted to me or more general interest, I might do it. I keep checking in.

So far there seem to be an awful lot of proposals along the lines of "Why can't I ever get a cab when I need one? I'll investigate if you give me money," or "Why do are the busses around her so damn slow? And what's wrong with people anyway, dropping cigarette butts all over the place? I'll investigate, if you give me money." Some of this sound more like bitching than pitching, in other words. But I'll keep checking back.

Mary said...

Ahruman:

First you say that there's no evidence that piracy hurts sales, but then you admit that "it is true that sales of recordings, especially on physical media, are declining."

I think what you means is there's no evidence that piracy hurts musicians. And I more or less agree.

The recording industry wants you to believe they are the music industry, but they’re not; they’re a peripheral piece of infrastructure.

That's sort of what I'm saying with the "live performances" part. For most of history, musicians didn't make their living by selling recordings, because there were no recordings. I'm saying that situation may return. So the recording industry may become irrelevant, and musicians may go back to getting paid to keep creating music (by different "patrons of the arts"), rather than selling copies of music they've already made.

Simon:

However it's already been demonstrated by a few people that even this isn't necessary.
Cory Doctrow has released a number of his books as ebooks under Creative Commons. IIRC he has observed that those books contribute more, not less, revenue than the ones with traditional licensing. People who buy the ebooks and like them sometimes buy the traditional books, sometimes recommend the book to their friends, sometimes go and buy his other work in dead-tree format - and sometimes simply send him donations as a thank you for the book they enjoyed.


Yeah, and libraries have been letting people read books for free for generations. The book market has already adjusted to that. The people buying books are the ones who are willing to pay even though they could just as easily read them for free. There will always be some people like that, as you say.

But the existence of libraries does probably lead to fewer book sales than would happen without them. So what, right? The industry still exists. Authors still make a living. I really don't think downloading will change the book industry much, because it's already sort of found an equilibrium that includes the effects of free competition. (Although if e-book readers become popular that equilibrium might shift a little, because pirating would become a little more convenient even than a trip to the library.)

So I agree that what Sylvia calls "crowdfunding" is probably not necessary for the book market, which is not really likely to contract much further. But it could probably help authors make *more* money than they currently are... And it could stop the contraction of the music and journalism markets, which haven't yet found that equilibrium that books already were at.

Ahruman said...

First you say that there's no evidence that piracy hurts sales, but then you admit that "it is true that sales of recordings, especially on physical media, are declining."
Actually, there is no contradiction there. You know what they say about correlation and causation.

From what I’ve seen there is really no evidence that piracy has affected CD sales. This is true even of studies that have started with the question “how much does piracy affect CD sales?” and found the answer to be somewhere in the range of “within the margin of error” to “slight benefit to sales”. Things that have been causally connected include the industry’s habit of sabotaging their own products with non-functional DRM while raising the prices, their demonization of their customers and the end of vinyl-replacement sales.

Side note: I recognise that my habit of referring to unspecific studies is unsatisfactory; I really need to compile a good reference list. In the mean time, here’s one meta-study: http://www.opensource-marketing.net/Filesharing_Friend%20or%20foe.pdf