Re: Napster: thoughts and comments?

From: Emlyn (onetel) (
Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 23:45:27 MDT

Hal write:
> 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.

That's actually quite a cool idea. You might combine an idea of "private
clubs" with art produced this way. Kind of like patronage for the masses.
Everyone who chips in gets to be a paid-up member, with all kinds of extra
priveleges with regard to merchandise, artist contact, and being legally
allowed to call themselves whatever the "club members" are called (king
doody chicken, or something like that) etc, which cannot be bought after the
pledge amount is reached. People love to be members of elite (or not so
elite) clubs, this would work rather well.

> 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.

I think it's probably quite workable. It's got some warts (using information
hiding instead of true ownership), but it's probably quite strong.

> 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.

I think you are right about this, with one caveat; it depends highly on the
dominant memes out there. If the dominant meme is "you should support
creators of art whose work you consume", then that's ok. If the dominant
meme is "f*ck the system, I'm not paying nuthin", then it's not so good. I
think Napster promotes the second meme, and they get rich doing it,
pretending they are the People's Hero. Scum.

This actually strongly highlights the urgent need for a secure electronic
cash system. I know that I freeride on the net as much as (more than) anyone
else. Why? Because I need instant gratification, and I don't often have an
easy way to pay (stuck with an Australia only credit card, for one thing,
d'oh!), and even if I do, it's often so much more of a hassle to pay for
quality when you can get something dodgy for free. Convenience is far more
of a concern than price to me. I don't think I'm alone on this.

> 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.

I think in fact you would find that it would look much like today's
industry. This relates to what I said in a previous post, that the marketing
function of record companies is not threatened at all by the move to zero
cost distribution, and neither by the removal of intellectual property
rights. Many people want to be told what to consume, or will believe the
messages when they hear them. The record companies are not going to shrivel;
the smart ones will strengthen in such an environment, and artists will
become increasingly dependent on them. One such way for them to prosper
would be to adopt the system outlined above.

The net is in an interesting period right now; lots of stuff for free,
because lots of big orgs are willing to lose a lot of money. Why? Because
they all want to become (the money losing) in their sector, and
they'll pay for the privelege. And why is that? Because they understand the
principle (it comes from Biology, what's it's damn name again?) that the
first (clear leader) in the market has a massive advantage in the long run.
We could call it the Microsoft principle.

Music will be such an area. Who will become Amazon/Microsoft, where the
majority of people go by default to get music. (whose business model
I wholeheartedly support; very sound), Napster, or some big commercial shop?

Once things bed down, and consumers have turned to the net as their primary
consumption medium, it's going to be very hard for an artist without company
backing (by company I mean the gatekeepers of these centers of commerce, or
someone with access to the gatekeepers). If anything,
artists are going to be more screwed than before.

What's the crucial point? Once information is "free", ie: not owned, then
true value (or money making ability, anyway) will be vested almost solely in
the most successful meme spreaders. There's already an entire industry built
around this, which people seem to forget about when talking information
freedom, and that's the professional communications disciplines of PR,
marketing, and advertising (which I think are busily merging into one
mega-comms discipline even now - the dark side of the force!). Politicians
and maybe journos have some happy future there too (or maybe journos fall
into the same camp as the artists).

> 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.
> Hal

I'll check it out; that's interesting. I'm not sure that I'd waste my time
by reading the book, but hey.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Oct 02 2000 - 17:34:24 MDT