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What Makes Something "Better Than Free"? 184

Posted by Zonk
from the better-than-better-than-ezra dept.
Stanislav_J writes "In a very thought-provoking essay entitled 'Better Than Free' Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired, probes the question of how thoughts, ideas and words that are so constantly, easily, and casually copied can still have economic value. 'If reproductions of our best efforts are free,' he asks, 'how can we keep going? To put it simply, how does one make money selling free copies?' He enumerates and explains eight qualities that can, indeed, make something financially viable — 'better than free.' A very timely article in light of the constant discussion of RIAA/piracy/copyright issues."
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What Makes Something "Better Than Free"?

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  • chocolate (Score:4, Funny)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @05:49AM (#22444134)
    nuff said
  • Do people actually make imitation Grateful Dead live tapes? Some bar band (or Phish?!?) and claim it's the Dead? The mind boggles.

    All of the points make sense but he doesn't address that, while he is describing value, it many cases it is valued much less measured in dollars (OK, Euros) than previous, say 20th century, media value. Sure you'll pay for the immediate delivery, I do with iTunes, but I almost never buy the whole album/disk/collection. Personalization is fine in the future but where is the great
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279)

      Do people actually make imitation Grateful Dead live tapes? Some bar band (or Phish?!?) and claim it's the Dead?

      A lot of files on P2P networks are mislabeled. You'll see a file going around titled "Cocteau Twins - The Thinner the Air (Massive Attack remix)" which Massive Attack didn't actually have anything to do with (probably just some teenager adding beats onto the song with his home computer).

      In the print publishing world, however, deceptive labeling is common. Think about the $2 "Webster's Dictiona

      • by opencity (582224)
        > A lot of files on P2P networks are mislabeled.

        A friend predicted, was not advocating, that poisoning would be the labels great defense back in the 90s.

        While I read the article quick and late he was specifically mentioning Grateful Dead live tapes. Perhaps it's too obscure but counterfeiting a Dead live tape is a strange concept to me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NewAndFresh (1238204)

      Do people actually make imitation Grateful Dead live tapes? Some bar band (or Phish?!?) and claim it's the Dead? The mind boggles.

      You have a point about the article, but I think you're harping on a tiny detail. (Although I have downloaded plenty of mislabeled music -which is probably the point he was trying to make)

      All of the points make sense but he doesn't address that, while he is describing value, it many cases it is valued much less measured in dollars (OK, Euros) than previous, say 20th century, med

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I used to spend $1000+ per year on CDs and DVDs, until I discovered The Pirate Bay. Now I pay nothing. I can easily afford to pay the money, but I choose not to, because why should I pay for something that other people (who don't work as hard as I do) can get for free?

        I don't begrudge paying the artists, but I DO begrudge being the only sucker who does.

        I am the future, and I'll keep on doing it until it becomes too difficult or risky to bother.
        • The very essence of the Free Rider problem.

          It's also why donation systems, support your favorite artist drives, and other such alternative "models" don't scale. There are too many parasites, or too many people who simply assume that someone else is picking up the slack. And people also become annoyed when they're perceptually being nagged to "give". Or, as you say, they no longer want to be the "sucker".

          But don't worry, because of people like you there's an entire army of people out there dedicated to makin
        • I never downloaded music until I realized I had been paying a levy for CDR's for years, totaling hundreds of dollars paid--for backing up data and recording original tracks. I felt like a chump.

          Now I download anything I want that's on a major label and available, since I'm paying for it anyway. I always buy CD's direct from the artist if I can, in solidarity. Support the artists, and screw greedy middlemen with their faulty business model. The levy distribution system is as broken as a typical recording c

      • And if you mean the industry, well think of how the icemen felt when the refrigerator was invented?
        Now, if they only had a large representative organization (say, the Ice Kooler Executives of America), then they could sue all the "ice pirates" for making ice so easily available to everyone and demand compensation and punitive damages to make sure they never do that again.
      • by opencity (582224)
        > And if you mean the industry, well think of how the icemen felt when the refrigerator was invented?

        Sure or the hat makers when people stopped wearing hats. There is actually more money around for, especially, the low end artists in music at least, but the industry as a whole, I mean media not just music, is losing value (if you measure that in cash) and less value = less jobs.
    • and the interesting thing is that the author seems to be aware of that fact. (But maybe not of how it impacts his current thesis.)

      Anyway, yeah, 20th century media provided an awful lot of nominal employment, but the jury is still out on how much value they provided. Kind of like Microsoft provided an awful lot of software, but the jury is now reporting on how much real work that software actually did/does. You can sell snake oil for a while, but eventually you find that you have polluted your own market.

      But
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ChrisMaple (607946)
        For just one thing out of many possibilities, money is a safeguard against waste. Many people are already slobs, as a walk down many busy roads will demonstrate. With a requirement that things be paid for, people are less likely to discard things for trivial reasons. (My car ran out of gas. I'll get a new one.) Some people enjoy destroying things. If they have to pay for the things they destroy, they are less likely to destroy things.

        Not all things are manufactured. People pay money for live performances.

      • by shmlco (594907) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @02:34PM (#22446624) Homepage
        Ah, the quintessential communal system. Of course, one only has to go back to the sixties to see how many of those utopian societies survived.

        And if barter systems worked so well, we wouldn't have evolved money way back in the day. Communication doesn't help, as small villages already had excellent word-of-mouth communication systems.

        Everyone knows that Jim is a parasite who doesn't want to do any work. Now what? Let him starve? Jane does "favors" for the men. Is that work? Is that enough work? What if you don't need or want her favors and she needs one of your cabinets? And as mentioned above, some skill sets are more valuable. Many people can make cabinets, but the only brain surgeon around is Mike, who spent years learning to do what he does. And because of that Mike already has all of the cabinets he needs. Now what do you do? Run around trying to arrange a trade with someone else? Could be hard to do when you need surgery.

        "But the thing is, when you can get a copy of any manufactured good you want dirt cheap, what good is money?"

        IF you can get a copy of ANY manufactured good you want dirt cheap, then your argument may some hold water. But even "dirt cheap" isn't free.
        • by multisync (218450)

          Jane does "favors" for the men ... What if you don't need or want her favors and she needs one of your cabinets?
           
          ... the only brain surgeon around is Mike ... Mike already has all of the cabinets he needs ...

          Now what do you do?


          I know what I'd be doing if I was Mike 8^D
        • by opencity (582224)
          > We don't need big farming, either. (Nothing sucks the nutrition out of a crop faster than mass producing it.) We can actually produce sufficient food if we produce it locally, in most places. If we can keep unrestrained communication networks, we can produce our own food in the morning, be doctors, scientists, artisans, technicians, teachers, etc., in the afternoon, and philosophers in the evenings.

          Sure I agree but I'm curious how you think that applies in the short, say Ah, the quintessential communal
          • by shmlco (594907)
            "I advocate an Evolution..."

            Sounds to me like you were advocating that we scrap the current system and do away with money altogether. Hardly seems "evolutionary".

            Either way, anyone can advocate anything, regardless of whether or not it's practical or workable or scalable. As has been said, the devil is in the details, and I simply pointed how such utopian schemes, created by people with the best of intentions, have failed in the past.

            BTW, if you're interesting in societies based on alternative value systems
            • by opencity (582224)
              > Sounds to me like you were advocating that we scrap the current system and do away with money altogether.

              You're getting your posters mixed up - I was responding to utopian local farming post and while I agree with that direction I wonder how to add value short term, say 25 years. Big Quick Solutions usually turn out bad - though I'd argue for FDR and any further commentary on my part is usually sectarian flamebait. Incremental change in, hopefully, the right direction gives much better odds (IMHO)

              For
  • Something that is not only free but comes with a complementary reach-around.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This super-distribution system has become the foundation of our economy and wealth. The instant reduplication of data, ideas, and media underpins all the major economic sectors in our economy, particularly those involved with exports -- that is, those industries where the US has a competitive advantage. Our wealth sits upon a very large device that copies promiscuously and constantly.

    BETTER THAN FREE [2.5.08]
    By Kevin Kelly

    Introduction

    "I am still writing my next book which is about what technology wants," wr

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 16, 2008 @06:30AM (#22444270)

      Immediacy -- Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released -- or even better, produced -- by its creators is a generative asset.

      Yes, yes, this is exactly what I wanted, the whole article immediately available here, instead of having to click on the link!


      How much do I owe you? Where do I pay?

    • by illectro (697914)
      Immediacy: The problem is that many pirate downloads are available prior to the official release. Of course it's clear that early access to material is currently being used as a stick to pull people to media websites - I know my favourite site imeem.com [imeem.com] has promoted the showing of at least one movie releases prior to the theatrical premier and plenty of 'exclusive' music from big name artists. The article does seem to be a little behind the times in terms of music accessibility "We'll pay Acme Digital War
      • by shmlco (594907)
        "... right now you can get practically any piece of music for free via ad supported sites..."

        I love it. Go back and look at nearly any Slashdot article regarding advertising and ad blockers or Tivo and all of the people who post that it's their "right" to block or skip ads. Some people don't want to pay ANYTHING for the content they enjoy. Not money. Not attention. Nothing.
  • by NetSettler (460623) * <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Saturday February 16, 2008 @06:17AM (#22444218) Homepage Journal

    The article makes some quite useful observations in terms of categorizing present trends and is a worthwhile read for that purpose, I think.

    But I'm uncomfortable with its "conclusions", if it can even be said to have any. (It seems to indulge a sense throughout of "this is ok, things are good, we just need to embrace them".) From the article:

    In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits.

    If I reworded this as:

    In short, the money in a networked economy does not go to the people doing the work. Rather it follows the path of who controls the view, and that path has its own circuits.

    it would sound a lot less benign.

    He makes some casual references to the need for trust and the willingness of people buying to give money to creators. But he overlooks the fact that it's in the best (financial) interest of the people who are the conduit to do as much as possible to obstruct the ability to do this.

    The industry thrives (for now) on talk of riches that can be achieved in this new world order if people just contribute freely and hope the money comes somehow, but the obvious truth is that that works better for the people who get the money than for the people who don't, and when you're touting that there's no correlation between where the money goes and where the credit is due, that's not sounding too good to me.

    Just look at how long it took the TV writers to get what was obviously due them, and they were very organized. Now imagine how much difficulty a group of uncoordinated netizens is going to have getting the same, since when any number of them boycott their "jobs" putting out free content, there are gonig to be any number of others rushing in to fill the gap for free, causing the content deliverers to say "gee, why should we pay them at all?"

    • by mspohr (589790) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @06:36AM (#22444290)

      But I'm uncomfortable with its "conclusions", if it can even be said to have any. (It seems to indulge a sense throughout of "this is ok, things are good, we just need to embrace them".) From the article: In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits. If I reworded this as: In short, the money in a networked economy does not go to the people doing the work. Rather it follows the path of who controls the view, and that path has its own circuits. it would sound a lot less benign.
      I think you have missed his point here. The money DOES go to the people doing the work. Except the 'work' is the not necessarily the people who made the original work but the people who are adding value through immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage, and findability.

      I believe that his real point is that it is no longer sufficient to 'create' something and then retire on royalties but you must go out and continually provide value for that creation in the ways he lists. This is the great shock to traditional businesses publishing books, music, software, etc. Their business model has been formed on the scarcity of copies and they have failed to adapt to the reality that copies are no longer scarce.

      Actually, I kind of like the concept that you have to work for a living by continually providing value rather than create a monopoly on some idea or expression of an idea and coast on monopoly rents.

      • by PietjeJantje (917584) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @07:40AM (#22444474)

        Actually, I kind of like the concept that you have to work for a living by continually providing value rather than create a monopoly on some idea or expression of an idea and coast on monopoly rents.
        Let's put it this way, let's not take the RIAA as an example because that has been muddling the discussion into a mono copyright bashing affair.

        If an author, say Douglas Adams (rip), spends a couple of years on a book, your equation does not work. That is because it is based on an investment of time, and you need a return for that. Creating value after that, for instance based on your popularity, is nice, but not economically related to the investment needed for the addition of value to the initial product. Also his audience, and book readers in general, might be less inclined to purchase services after the free copy.

        Do we want a culture based on the commercial return on t-shirts and such? Would Adams have written the books? I for one prefer having given him some monetary units for his product, than obtain it for free, then see if I like him and toss him some coins like he's some kind of beggar.

        I believe copyright and old-fashioned publishing are outdated mechanisms in digital times. I also believe that over time many money grabbing industries got a firm, unhealthy grip on the writers, artists, etc. But I also believe the single-minded mono-culture of simply proclaiming everything related to copyright as evil, and magic solutions like making everything free and then it will all be solved, is just silly and a cover-up for the fact that people like to take things for free while not having the worry about the morality of it. This makes one equal to the RIAA. Full of greed and hypocrisy.
        • Remember kids (Score:2, Insightful)

          by NewAndFresh (1238204)
          Home Taping is Killing Music
          (or to quote the Dead Kennedys on In God We Trust)
          "Home taping is killing big business profits. We left this side blank so you can help."
        • by oojimaflib (1077261) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @09:06AM (#22444794)

          If an author, say Douglas Adams (rip), spends a couple of years on a book, your equation does not work. That is because it is based on an investment of time, and you need a return for that. Creating value after that, for instance based on your popularity, is nice, but not economically related to the investment needed for the addition of value to the initial product. Also his audience, and book readers in general, might be less inclined to purchase services after the free copy.

          Do we want a culture based on the commercial return on t-shirts and such? Would Adams have written the books? I for one prefer having given him some monetary units for his product, than obtain it for free, then see if I like him and toss him some coins like he's some kind of beggar.
          While I'm aware that your argument may well hold for some people, Douglas Adams is a _really_ bad example in this case. Indeed, he's a fine example of the counterargument:

          Douglas Adams (DA) is paid by the BBC to write a radio series. This is given away, for free, by the BBC, over the airwaves (I don't think that there was a radio license by the time Hitch-hiker's was broadcast). DA chose then to add value to the original product (the radio series) by: writing sequels, adapting it as a book, adapting it as a TV show etc., cashing in on its (and his) popularity.
          Now clearly, in this proposed new world of content distribution, different ways of cashing in would have to be chosen, but the principle still holds. DA would have written the work regardless, as it was initially paid for by a corporation that wanted the content. How he then chose to cash in on his success was then simply a product of the time.

          This is not to say that this will hold for every author--public service broadcasters can't be expected to employ every content creator--but DA is a fine example of exactly how you can make money by giving stuff away for free.
          • by mgkimsal2 (200677) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @04:06PM (#22447298) Homepage
            This is not to say that this will hold for every author--public service broadcasters can't be expected to employ every content creator--but DA is a fine example of exactly how you can make money by giving stuff away for free.

            Where exactly was the 'free' in this? The BBC is gov't run, funded by taxes. Maybe not a direct radio license in this case, but it collects money from people, hired a guy to write something, then gave the original people something back in return: the work it commissioned and paid for with the money it collected from the original population. I'm not sure I see anything 'free' here.

        • by sayfawa (1099071) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @09:10AM (#22444814)
          If things go the way I expect/hope then, in your analogy, Douglas Adams would have been paid to write the book in the first place, instead of writing the book and then selling copies in order to receive payment. By the time he is done with the original work of art, he has been paid enough to make all the time and effort worth it. The valueless copies are freely distributable.

          Imagine your favourite author stating that they are not going to start writing another book until they get x dollars to do it, but once they are done, the book is available for all in electronic form. Sure, there will be lots of freeloaders, but as long as the artist gets what they want, who cares?

          • by wvmarle (1070040)

            Imagine your favourite author stating that they are not going to start writing another book until they get x dollars to do it, but once they are done, the book is available for all in electronic form. Sure, there will be lots of freeloaders, but as long as the artist gets what they want, who cares?

            This will likely never work. This is like people have to actually invest something in this author, and hoping they get results. But what if the work that comes out is not of your liking? Even a favourite author is not guaranteed to write a work you like so much you really want it. Investment is supposed to give results, it has risks, and the higher the risk the higher the potential reward should be. This book writing case I'd say is a very high risk investment, with a relatively low return, unless you are

          • by Macthorpe (960048)
            Except that surely makes it close to impossible for a new author to get into the business.

            Publishers rarely offer advances to unknown authors, and considering the investment of time required, these people rely on being paid after the book is bought. Once you take that away by distributing for free, suddenly you have budding authors who want to be published but won't be paid before or after the fact.

            Giving away for free could work for established authors (that's another debate) but is close to useless for an
            • by ahfoo (223186)
              If you think authors have it bad giving stuff away free, you can't imagine what it's like trying to sell it. What I mean is the print publishing industry is totally corrupt as it stands. The best thing in the world that could happen to authors would be for the consumers to stop supporting the utterly corrupt publishing cartels. This is especially true inthe case of textbook publishers. You're not supporting Joe Schmoe the budding author when you buy a book in a bookstore. Distributors are the only conduit i
        • by sgtrock (191182)
          In addition to the points raised by others, may I point you to the Baen Publishing Company's Free Library [baen.com]? The front page includes an insightful essay with hard data as to why authors especially should be looking for ways to spread the word about their works.
      • I believe that his real point is that it is no longer sufficient to 'create' something and then retire on royalties but you must go out and continually provide value for that creation in the ways he lists.

        Like the recording industry has been doing for the artists for a hundred years or so?

        Music has always been free, in the sense that you can sing any song you remember. What the recording industry has been doing is to bring to the people better executions of those songs to people who enjoy music but do not h

      • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Saturday February 16, 2008 @08:16AM (#22444590) Homepage

        I believe that his real point is that it is no longer sufficient to 'create' something and then retire on royalties but you must go out and continually provide value for that creation in the ways he lists. This is the great shock to traditional businesses publishing books, music, software, etc.

        You're exaggerating. The number of people working on music, books and software who can actually retire on the basis of one hit are vanishingly small. The vast majority need to be continually creating new things if they are to have a living wage. Look at 99% of the programmers in the video game industry for instance.

        Actually, I kind of like the concept that you have to work for a living by continually providing value rather than create a monopoly on some idea or expression of an idea and coast on monopoly rents.

        You're also using language manipulatively :-( Especially on slashdot, most peoples connotation of "monopoly" is "sole provider of something I need". Saying copyright holders are a monopoly is like saying that Nike have a monopoly on producing Nike trainers. It doesn't say anything useful. Nobody needs Nike trainers specifically, just like nobody needs Britney Spears' music specifically (regardless of what the little sisters of the world may think). What you say might apply in very, very special circumstances, like with Windows but certainly doesn't apply to most copyrighted works.

        • by mspohr (589790)
          Regarding my use of the term 'monopoly rent', I was using this in the classical economic sense of the use of a legal or regulatory mechanism to extract payment instead of producing wealth through trade or productivity and not in the vernacular of 'sole provider'. See Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking [wikipedia.org] for a further discussion.

      • by wall0159 (881759)
        Then why can't I just make a site that mirrors Joe Bloggs' personalised aggregator and slap advertising on it? Oh sorry - it's ok for him to use other peoples' work, but not ok for me to use his? (I realise that was not your implication, but my question is really "where does it end"?)
        • but my question is really "where does it end"?

          Well I would say, not there. If we assume there's no copyrights, then there's no reason you can't mirror Joe's personalised aggregator and slap advertising on it. The question then becomes, is it viable for you to do so? Will it make you enough money to justify the effort to set this up and make sure it keeps working?

          For you to get enough traffic, people have to a) find your mirror of it and b) not find the original (assuming the original somehow is more valuable -- which might merely require it be iden

      • Actually, I kind of like the concept that you have to work for a living by continually providing value rather than create a monopoly on some idea or expression of an idea and coast on monopoly rents.

        The question is whether fewer people will come up with new works if their value is so drastically reduced and whether society will lose out overall. Take books for example. Where is the incentive for an author to write a new book if it can be immediately copied for free by anybody. Did it ever occur that by re
      • The money DOES go to the people doing the work. Except the 'work' is the not necessarily the people who made the original work but the people who are adding value through immediacy, personalization, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage, and findability.

        The majority of the work done (hopefully) will be in the creation of the work, yet it's not the creation of the work that's being even indirectly rewarded here. It's all the other services that adorn the work that you are paying

    • by kevinbr (689680) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @07:37AM (#22444464)
      "......in a networked economy does not go to the people doing the work....."

      In, for example, todays music industry, the money does not go to the people doing the work. There are rare exception like Madonna and U2, but the money goes to the distributer.

      "...Just look at how long it took the TV writers to get what was obviously due them......"

      Um, no. They still do not get what is due to them. I believe for example their download fee kicks in after something like 30 days ( where most of the money is made in the first 30 days ).

      No one is due anything. We all have to work and in the US today millions of workers are told to adjust or starve. Writers and musicians are no different. The fact is that the cost of a digital copy is zero.

      The other reality is that the existing distribution is trying to use the law to prop up a defunct model.

      Take the movie distribution. I live in France but speak English. I see a movie available today in the US, but I am supposed to wait for 6 months to get it legally, when I can get it now on Piratebay? It of course never occurs to them I might pay today, if they would only make it available. They do demand creation but fuck up the fulfillment.

      Or take a concert. I recently paid 120 Euros for several nights at the Nice Jazz festival. I want to buy MY concerts that I attended but of course where are they available? Bootlegs on Youtube. Demand creation yet no fulfillment.

      etc etc.

      With digital copying, they might want to create demand yet throttle this demand in stupid ways ( I do not want DVD's I want 700 MB downloads for my hotel at night on a laptop but no this is not a commercial choice, they fail again to to fulfillment).

      So this article makes perfect sense to me. I work with IT contractors who make lots of money. They ALL download films because that is the easiest way to them, not because they are free.
    • by cshotton (46965)
      There is an alternative to getting paid for "free" content. It's a simple mind-shift that has to happen and it gets us away from the centuries old idea of an economy based on sale of tangible goods. Put concisely, you should get paid for the ability to create value in the future, not the items you create. Musicians could receive what amounts to "futures contracts", fans paying for (or rewarding) musicians for creating of future works. The works are given away for free. The people with the talent and skill t
      • by shmlco (594907)
        As has been pointed out many times, this provides a high barrier to entry for new authors, musicians, directors, etc.. Further, I suspect that the "contract" system would fall down in many cases for movies, which have prohibitive price tags.

        How may people are going to risk giving a "contract" to someone for $100 million dollars? How much information would you require before doing so? Enough to spoil the surprise? (Sixth Sense, Matrix).

        Finally, I have enough things to do without continually looking for new w
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cshotton (46965)
          We already have an amazing system of "micro-payments", where you and I spend a tiny fraction of the amount of money it took to create a given work. Why screw it up?

          Well, it's pretty much broken when it comes to paying for items with zero manufacturing costs. If I can get something for free, there is no real economic benefit to me to pay for it. The value is in the act of creation, not the result of it. My point is that for that category of value creation, a reputation based economy is more fair than not.

    • by autophile (640621)

      From the article:

      In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits.

      If I reworded this as:

      In short, the money in a networked economy does not go to the people doing the work. Rather it follows the path of who controls the view, and that path has its own circuits.

      it would sound a lot less benign.

      Granted. However I think the point of the article was that the content creator is also the o

      • Interpretation: I'm not even sure how to apply this to a novel. Suggestions?

        Imagine a book so information dense that even E. Tufte couldn't read it without getting a nosebleed. A group of readers wishing to understand such an accumulation of language could hire a team of analysts to analyze and explain it. (Or, alternatively, the author could travel the country teaching the principles of the book at lectures or conferences).

        It may not work perfectly for novels, but I'd imagine something similar could be e

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)

      If I reworded this as:

      In short, the money in a networked economy does not go to the people doing the work. Rather it follows the path of who controls the view, and that path has its own circuits.

      it would sound a lot less benign.

      Let me play devil's advocate here for a moment.

      Money isn't a reward for work. That's the hard lesson of business. The economic system does not care about your personal travails. It is concerned with scarcity. Money is a reward for reducing scarcity

  • How about... advice by a real lawyer?

  • by orionop (1139819) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @06:18AM (#22444228) Journal
    In a free-market world with supply and demand determining costs, it makes sense that digital information that is in infinite supply will cost nothing. The things that are listed in TFA are things that can not be distributed infinitely and thus help guide artists and software providers toward adding valuable content that customers will pay for. Maybe sometime soon we will see less lawsuits and more content.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      You're assuming a market system is a given, seeing that without copyright easily duplicated things have no value, and concluding therefore that they have no value. That's pretty ridiculous. More likely, the base assumption is wrong - if we can't enforce copyright, then we need some alternative to markets for encouraging the creation of copyable things. Nobody knows what though, which isn't surprising, our economic thinking is clouded by capitalist religion. We have yet to reach the Enlightenment period of e
      • by ThosLives (686517) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @09:09AM (#22444808) Journal

        ...then we need some alternative to markets for encouraging the creation of copyable things. Nobody knows what though...

        We already have this. It's called people finding something they like to do for which other people are willing to trade goods and services which the former people want and/or need. If people enjoy making copyable things, and other people want those copyable things, then the balance works.

        There is no rational argument for a system which enforces people trading for something I want to produce if that thing I want to produce is not desired. There is also no rational argument for forcing people to create something they don't want to create if there are people that desire it (but don't want to provide it themselves). To use two examples common in these conversations: If I create a song, there is no obligation for people to pay for it. If I only hold concerts and people want recordings, I am under no obligation to provide those recordings. (Note that I'm just talking about obligation, not about if it's a good idea or not.)

        The bit where technology is helping is where it helps match up the desires of the creators with the desires of the traders.

        That's it, and anything else is just what I would like to call "economic friction."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by clarkkent09 (1104833)
      The things that are listed in the article are nowhere near enough to compensate an author for the time it takes to write a book. Hence, less people would write books. You don't see that as dangerous direction to go?
  • by Sique (173459) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @06:59AM (#22444370) Homepage
    Information increases its value if it is connected to other information. Many inventions happen when separate, wellknown concepts were put together for the first time. No, I am not talking about "business method performed on the Internet", because this connection is very simple. Putting two things together of which one is all the rage is easy.

    But in a cloud of possible dots finding the right ones and connect them actually creates value, and if the number of possible dots increases, the value of the single dot may be negligible, but the combination of the right ones gets more and more value. The process thus is twofold: Make every dot as connectible as possible, and find a way to spot valuable connections. Construction kits for children like LEGO show how you do it for the single dot. Every piece of LEGO can connect to every other piece (ok, sometimes with the help of a third piece, but the overall structure itself remains the same).

    I hear often complain that open source software is "not innovative", and then it points out that it wasn't able to invent a single new type of building block for software. That complaint got it all wrong. LEGO also didn't invent a single new connector since the introduction of LEGO Tecnic. And when was the last time a new type of brick was invented? Often the invention of a new type of dot means that you can't connect it to anything. So the invention itself is completely worthless until you invent a way to actually connect it to something.

    Many a commercial software has its value because of its combination of wellknown "dots". Photoshop is the standard because it combines Hundreds of wellknown algorithms in a unique way. SAP R/3 even is completely "open source" in a way meaning that everyone with developer rights on a SAP R/3 system can look into the complete source code of every subroutine and function block, and change it at will. But SAP R/3 draws its value from the fact that it implements so many different business concepts and business logics. Every single of it is well known, but only with a system like R/3 you get them bundled together.

    And even Microsoft seldom was innovative, but it was always a good integrator. Microsoft software is not valuable because it implements things not found somewhere else. Microsoft's business was to present enough connected dots, so everyone could find something to use.
  • by brit74 (831798) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @07:03AM (#22444378)
    His article was posted two weeks ago on boingboing and discussed quite a bit. I have to admit to being one of the detractors of his idea (which I think reduces artists and creators to beggars trying to eek out a living). I also think he talks too much in generalities, and that makes his ideas seem more persuasive. The minute you think about specific things (how does his ideas apply to X), his ideas often don't apply at all, or reduces the income from digital creations to pennies on the dollar.
    http://www.boingboing.net/2008/02/02/kevin-kelly-better-t.html [boingboing.net]
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday February 16, 2008 @07:23AM (#22444426) Homepage

      Copyright is a very recent notion. For most of the history of the human race artists, dramatists, and poets were not paid for each copy made from their work. Nonetheless, the art world flourished, and no one seemed to regret the lack of copyright. For example, when the Roman poet Martial heard that someone was transcribing his poetry recitals and having the poetry copied by a team of slaves and sold, he was angry only that this enterprising fellow was putting his own name on the poetry instead of crediting Martial. I think history shows us that artists can do just fine without copyright.

      In the United States, there is a still a strong tradition of private patronage--that's how many contemporary composers make their living there--and in the European Union state arts ministries are generous with subsidies, so much of the infrastructure that supports the arts would survive if copyright were to disappear.

      • For most of the history copyright wasn't an issue since easy copying and wide distribution were not possible (or practical). Musicians, made a living either by performing their own work or by being supported by wealthy patrons. Painters/sculptors made and sold unique products that were not easily copied. Writers, well they kind of struggled. None of them made a good living out of their art, and for that reason it was mostly members of the privileged classes who engaged in it.

        It is interesting that in pref
        • by CRCulver (715279)

          For most of the history copyright wasn't an issue since easy copying and wide distribution were not possible (or practical).

          With regards to literature, this is something of a myth. The presence of thousands of literate slaves in Rome allowed the mass-copying and sale of literary productions.

      • Paintings are hard to copy, and many were commissioned. Very few artists got rich.

        There were no stereo systems, music had to be played live. Musicians could eek out a meager living but very few composers got rich (many could gain food/lodging with wealthy patrons but not much actual cash).

        "history shows us that artists can do just fine without copyright."

        I'm not sure that many artists have done well historically. The question is whether or not copyright makes much difference.

        I say it does - but mostly in th
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

          Without copyright you can bet they'd all be cheap duplicates of the original CD/film and nobody involved in producing the original work would make any money.

          I really don't see how one necessarily follows from the other.
          You presume that the creators would expect to be paid for the distribution of copies and that 'bootleggers' would take any profit out of that.
          So, the solution isn't to become a pauper. Its to figure out how to make money despite the bootleggers. For example, pre-sales - if enough fans pay for enough advance copies to make the production worthwhile, then the creators still make money, the fans still get new productions from creators they like a

          • "...the bootleggers can still sell knock off copies to every one else"

            Why let them?

            Record stores and cinemas are the one place where copyright law makes sense and is enforceable.

      • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Saturday February 16, 2008 @08:09AM (#22444564) Homepage

        Well, not really. Unless you consider "most" of the history of the human race to have taken place in the last three hundred years (a New Chronologist [wikipedia.org] perhaps?) for most of human history there were practically no creative works, and what few did exist were usually religious in nature - paid for either by a totalitarian religious authority, or by believers own devotion.

        Art, literature etc all started appearing during the renaissance, (or during the pre-dark age antiquity, depending which timeline you subscribe to) and were inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. Your Roman poet is a good example - he didn't care that somebody was copying his poetry because he wasn't relying on his poetry for his income. The size of the population who had disposable income to spend on poetry just was too small for it to be an issue. Anyway, a combination of illiteracy and expense of duplication meant that only the ultra-wealthy families like the Medici could indulge in owning books and paintings. The problem of copyright infringement didn't exist, because the scale was too small. As you note, fraud was the issue of the day.

        The invention of copyright was triggered by "piracy" of books, effectively, and it happened only about four centuries ago. Even then, it would be a long time until the number of people making a living off of producing creative works was >1% of the population.

        So what history shows us is not that artists can do fine without copyright. It's that it's possible to have the arts, as long as you have amazingly rich patrons willing to fund it, in which case not only would most of the creativity be oriented towards a 50 year old+ bankers tastes (forget Half Life!), but there'd be much less of it. We'd have an abundance of copies but a shortage of new, interesting things. Doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

        • by CRCulver (715279)

          We'd have an abundance of copies but a shortage of new, interesting things.

          No, we'd probably have more new, interesting things. The free market has reduced the entertainment scene to rehashes of the same simple-minded films and music (even most bands at the fringe outside of major-label control aren't really doing anything new). The avant-garde of cinema and music has always operated through the support of wealthy individuals or ministries.

  • by DrSkwid (118965)
    Did I fall into a wormhole on my way to work, this subject is *old*

    Results 1 - 10 of about 12,800 for "competing with free".
  • In "Immediacy" part he was giving example how "immediacy" is a value for consumer of entertainment and that is why entertainment industry is selling immediacy. Example he gives for software is quite different. Software industry needs us to have access to earlier versions so we could help the industry to fix the bugs. Seems quite opposite things to me. Early software indeed goes for free or lesser value, and early entertainment goes for higher value (even earlier free screenings for narrow groups of critics
  • by Viceroy Potatohead (954845) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @08:38AM (#22444682) Homepage
    I've been thinking about this sort of thing recently, and here are a few of my ideas (wrt music).

    What the music industry should have done is this:

    Create a decent online store and classify the music as either popular (the Brtineys, Metallicas etc), historical (the Creams, Johnny Cashes etc), or up-and-coming (the Modest Mouses, Jason Webleys etc) where they DON'T sell the biggest hits, they give them away, when you purchase a different track from the same artist, as well as a track from any band classified 'up-and=coming'. Personally, I think $1 a track is quite a bit too much, but whatever, they'd have to discover the actual price point. Regardless, basically three tunes for the price of two.

    If even a small percentage of those who buy then go and buy further tracks from the u&c bands, it would be promoting new and less homogenized music, as well as making the smaller bands more profitable for the labels.

    For big acts (U2, the Stones, that sort of thing), I'd also offer some meatspace uber-boxset, with absolutely EVERYTHING they've done. These half-asses boxsets that are actually offered nowadays don't appeal to me at all. DVDs of all their studio work, a few DVDs of all known live recordings, a DVD of demos, DVDs of all known video, a book about the band, a book of all known tour and show posters, etc... Basically, I mean EVERYTHING. Number the boxsets and sell the first ten for a ridiculous price (maybe a couple thousand), and the next hundred for maybe twice the general price. Anybody else can get it for $200 or whatever... I know there are several bands that I would have happily payed that amount, and judging by the twenty to thirty million people who entered the lottery to see Zeppelin for $300 (IIRC), there are bound to be plenty of others like me.

    Then, instead of the current rush ticket buying system for concerts we have now, I'd open the sales to those who bought the boxset first, followed by those who have bought tracks from the online store, followed by the general public. As well, bases on the areas the boxsets have sold well in, I'd do another concert, for $500 per couple, limited to 300 or 400 people. Personally, I wouldn't have paid $100 to see Zeppelin with 20,000 other people, but I would have paid quite a bit more than $500 to see them with only 400 people. Let everyone at the show meet the band. Considering what deranged, out-of-touch twats so many of these celebrities have become, it would be doing them a favour.

    Anyhow, that's my 2c. An industry which is providing something people want has clearly fscked up when they have become as hated as the IRS.
  • 'If reproductions of our best efforts are free,' he asks, 'how can we keep going?

    Easy: Abolish money.

    Duh!
    • Money is an accounting system for what things are worth. It facilitates fair and efficient trade. Consider the alternatives.

      Barter. A pure barter system is inefficient, because trades are only made when the parties involved exchange things of equal value. To allow trades of things of non-equal value, at least one party must have a supply of things of small agreed-upon value to make up the difference. Over time, these variety of small things will reduce, as a community settles upon one standard of small thi

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @08:54AM (#22444754)
    Whether it's free software or a free sample or a "take it, it's free" giveaway of unsold items after a yard sale. Once you have something you start to make an investment in it. On the case of the free sample, the promoter hopes you'll like it and buy more. For free software you spend time installing it and trying it out. If you don't like it you spend more time removing it. With the unsold items, you spend real-estate in your home to house it (probably the reason it was up for sale to start with) and time to clean it when you do housekeeping.

    So "free" doesn't really exist at all

    To be better than free, an item has to pay you back for it's upkeep, care / feeding / maintenance and the time you spend using it, exploring it's potential and possibly the disposal costs if or when you toss it out.

    In short to be better than free, it must make you a profit.

    I've recently spend several days exploring a "free" CMS package for building websites. So far my time-cost has been well over $1000. In my view this package is certainly not free and may even be more costly than one I purchased for $500, but got my website built and operational in a day.

    Free as in no-cost is a myth. In my mind "free" simply means disposable, with very few regrets.

  • The Eagles had a 700,000-album debut week selling only at wal-mart. AC/DC's "Back in Black" recently hit 22 million copies sold over its lifetime. Piracy exists but it has not stopped good music from selling, it just stopped the labels' cash cow of generating money from crap releases by slapping some cute kid's picture on the front of the disc.
  • by Chris_Jefferson (581445) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @09:11AM (#22444820) Homepage
    One thing which irritates me about official channels of getting things is that it is often much more trouble than getting a bittorrent. There are things I would pay for, because I want more to be made, but it's too much hassle. The obvious examples of this is DRM and "Use need the CD/DVD in the drive" for games, but it effects other levels too.

    A recent extreme case of this is the BBC's new iPlayer. This is free (and I'm in the UK, so it works), and I use windows so it works fine, yet I'm STILL using a standard bittorrent site to get programs, because the interface is so goddamn slow and awful.

    Let me sign up once, then make it easy for me to search for, and download what I want with the minimal of fuss.
  • by ChainedFei (1054192) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @09:49AM (#22444962)
    ... That so many people equate successful ideas with monetary value. How is religion successful? Were there people going around asking individuals to buy into the Renaissance? We, as a society, focus altogether too much on how to make a quick buck off of something that we ignore the fact that some ideas are just damn good. A good idea sells itself. Bad ideas have to be marketed to the idiots. And we should be asking, is money the point or are we making it INTO the point?
    • Human time and effort is (like all things) a limited quantity. If a person is to make good decisions about how to live his life, he must be able to rank the possibilities open to him. He then chooses the things that most advance his life. Monetary value is an easily understandable standard that can be used for the ranking. Sure, there are things that fall into the category of "That's worth more (to me) than any amount of money", but that does not break the ranking system.
  • The next time someone whines "How can we make money if we give away XYZ for free?" ask them how we can give away recipes for free without starving.

    Good article, btw, but I think here in the /. forum, it's more preaching to the choir.
  • People not disabling the auto-run deserve to be hacked.
    People enabling the auto-run by default on their OS deserve to be jailed.

  • by david_thornley (598059) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @10:52AM (#22445290)

    One thing that struck me about the list of eight things is that very, very few people are going to get rich off them, while they will allow a very large number of people to make a good living.

    The way to get rich is to sell a product, a single thing that you make (or at least design) once, and sell in very large quantities. If you do it right, you can take a certain amount of work you do, and use it to get money out of a whole lot of people. This is what the RIAA and MPAA are trying to do with songs and movies: sell the exact same thing millions of times.

    The other way to make money is to provide a service. I make my living writing software for a company. They get my services, I get a continuing income that, while it pays for a nice lifestyle, isn't going to make me rich. (My current company does much the same thing: instead of selling the software, it supports the company in supplying a service very efficiently.) I do something specifically for the company, and they pay me.

    The eight listed qualities of "better than free" are mostly services. They provide something personalized, or services that can't be sold indefinitely, or things that are of limited if positive value. That's extremely threatening to institutions like Microsoft or Disney, that have made oodles of money out of artificial scarcity.

    It may well be that it will be much easier to make a good living in twenty or thirty years, but much harder to become rich. That doesn't sound bad to me, but there's going to be a whole lot of resistance by people with lots of money between now and then.

    • by Shados (741919)
      The main issue with services I've always found, is that then people don't have a reason to make something that doesn't require services...

      Hypothetical, geek-wise example: I make a free RDBMS to compete with Postgres, MySQL, etc. Now, I make money out of services (well, not unlike how the people behind MySQL do). Now, I need to choose which features to add (as a priority, of course all are good)... I could make the RDBMS run faster, have more programmatic features, blah blah, or I could have a good ecosystem
    • There's always going to be a "time value of money". Rich people will always be able to increase their riches by loaning out their money.

      People making a good living who are not rich, can become rich by forgoing immediate gratification, and saving and loaning out the surplus.

      Sure, some rich people are going to resist changes. There are always going to be people who don't want to exert new effort, and from among those the rich have the wherewithal to impede progress.

  • by smilinggoat (443212) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @11:32AM (#22445512) Homepage Journal
    I'm a musician, and I've come to terms with the fact that from now on, music is free. I support other musicians by purchasing LPs and CDs and the occasional MP3 of other artists I like, but for the majority of our audience (the public), our music is free.

    How do we, as musicians, make money on our works? By doing the same thing that any underground band has known for a long long time: merch. The money is in the t-shirt, the lighter, the sticker, the wallet, etc. People want that.

    That, and vinyl will never die. It is definitely a niche. But for one of my bands [deadhooker...geclub.com], we sell a 7" EP and you get a free MP3 download version of it as well. For one price you get the high quality, inconvenient vinyl and the low quality, convenient MP3. Not a bad model, IMO...

    I've bought a few MP3 albums off Bleep [bleep.com] before they were available in a physical format, but damn it, I wish for my $10 for the MP3 album, I'd get a $10 coupon to buy the LP or CD...
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Saturday February 16, 2008 @12:53PM (#22446042) Journal
    A comment on some opinions above, first:

    I did an engineering degree at one of the top schools and I got a high mark, a first as it happens. I had to work very hard for 4 years to get that, and I had to pay to do it as well.

    You know what sucks? People don't keep paying me since I'm a great engineer. I have to actually work to get people to keep paying me. How is this different from being an artist? I had to work very hard for years, and PAY, just to get to the position where I'm recognised. Now I can do things that the majority of other people can not. Maybe you don't think I'm creative enough and only really creativeness should be rewarded in this way. If this is the case, look around at some of the modern engineering wonders of the world. They're as much art as science (and fine examples of both). But people don't keep paying the engineers for the use of those works.

    Now substitute any other high-end training/degree/education for the engineering degree I claimed above. Art is great, just like engineering. But it's not special.

    Finally, I have nothing against people being stupidly successful and making vast amounts of money. What I mind is people whinging and trying to change laws so that they can make more money at my expense.

    Work for a living, damn it.

    And that's kind of what the article says: you will have to accept that copies are simply not scarse. No amount of wishful thinking will change that. You will now (as always) have to make money by providing things which are scarse. Like service, customization, support, trustworthiness, and so on.

    • Consider for a moment digital books, movies and games. The only value of such things is the copy. If you can't charge for a copy then very few people will create these things as an individual. These leaves just two options: 1) people can create digital works as a service to a media company or 2) people can create digital works as a hobby and give them away freely. There is no 3) where people create digital works and sell them themselves. And in case 1) the company won't be selling us the digital work a
      • Before telling me to stop and think, perhaps you should read the fine article. Yeah, I must be new here or something.

        Even so trying to reason why something is a bad idea isn't going to change the facts of the real world.
        • by dosboot (973832)
          Well, I did read the article.

          >>Even so trying to reason why something is a bad idea isn't going to change the facts of the real world.

          But presumably we care about the real world. There are some things to which you can't assign 'generative value', and yet people did work hard dammit to create and sell them to you. What I was saying is that there is problem in the real world, and you should think about it. Saying that "the real world is the real world" is avoiding them problems we face.
  • Free as in beer isn't always worth it. Think, white elephant.

    Two examples from own life: I "won" a "free" grandfather clock by participating in some intrusive survey and buying discount coupons which I never used. Since I was in college and living on campus the grandfather clock had negative value and I never bothered to collect it.

    The second was the time I was bored enough to drive out into the desert and listen to one of those shared time share thingies. That night they were selling shares of timeshar

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