Re: Napster: thoughts and comments?

Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 12:03:53 MDT

Emlyn writes:
> I'm afraid you'll have to spell it out for me, I'm suffering from a pathetic
> lack of imagination. If my entire audience has the idea that they need never
> (and should never) pay to listen, and reality maps onto this by way of
> pirated material which is incredibly easy to access (easier than the
> paid-for stuff), then how do I get paid?

One proposal turns art from a product into a service. That is, you pay
the artist for his time, not for each copy of the output. An artist
would agree to release a new artwork only when enough people had pledged
to pay for it. Once it was released, it would be freely available.
He might release a partial or low-quality version ahead of time to show
people what the final product would be like.

Now there are obvious problems with this, and I will mention one or two.
However, the important thing to keep in mind is, this is not intended to
maintain the status quo. It may turn out that not as many artists (or
programmers) get paid as much as they get paid today. We don't know the
shape of the future, but obviously things will be different, and this may
be an area where things change. If it seems that this system will cause
less art to be produced, we know that supply and demand will drive the
price of the artist's labor upward. The net result is hard to predict.

The first objection is the "free rider" problem. Why should anyone
pledge if they know they can get the work for free once others have
pledged enough? The reason is because if everyone thinks this way, they
won't get any art. So sooner or later people will break down and pledge.
People pay money now for PBS and other services they could get for free,
for exactly this reason.

The second objection is how new artists get started. Why should anyone
pay for the work of an untried artist? New artists would have to release
their works for free, initially. Novelists could publish the first half
of their novel freely, then demand payment to finish it. Musicians could
release some songs, then demand payment to make more. This is really
not all that different from the current system. Artists seldom make
much money right off the bat. They need to build up a reputation first.

Another problem is whether people could get advance payment on unpublished
works, as established artists can do today from their publishers. I would
think the same system could work in the future, with a middleman acquiring
the legal rights to the payment for the released work in exchange for
granting an advance fee. Another way to look at it is as an unsecured
loan, based on the reputation of the artist. The economics of such
advances wouldn't be all that different from today.

Horror author Stephen King has been proposing an experiment along these
lines, where he would offer a novel online if he got enough people to pay.
Then they would be free to share the novel with others. There is not much information
there now but it says to check back later in the week.


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