Emily and David

June 20th, 2012

Here’s what happened:

I retweeted Aimee Mann’s link to a post by David Lowery on his Trichordist blog, a post that he wrote in response to something Emily White posted on the All Songs Considered blog. You should read both posts to get up to speed. Let me know when you’re ready.

OK? So Emily is 21, and she writes about how she is young enough to have never had to go through the transition from physical music to digital. She’s never paid for much music in her life, but she has a large library of mp3s, and she has some misgivings about that. But she’s pretty sure that her generation is never going to pay for music. David’s response is a good read, and very instructive about the state of the music business and the internet, and I won’t try to sum it up here for fear of misrepresenting his position – you should definitely read it.

Some people are asking why I retweeted that link to an argument that is very different from the one that I made in response to the MegaUpload shutdown. The answer is because it made me think. I hesitate to even write this post, because every time I start talking about this stuff it feels like I’m poking a bear – a bear who is a lot smarter and more well-informed than me, a bear who is distributed all over the internet and has various law degrees, and has read and understood all the economic studies about file sharing and the decline in music business revenue. I imagine the bear will write a bunch of posts that make me think even more, and also make me feel kind of dumb about what I said or failed to say. I admit: I don’t know what I’m talking about, and a lot of what I believe comes from gut feelings, personal experience, and wishful thinking. Answers I have none, but here are some things David’s post makes me think about.

I have a different perspective on the music business than a lot of artists because of the way my career happened. Before I left my software job and started Thing a Week, the music business seemed like a private club to which I would never belong. Some of that was self-doubt and laziness I’m sure, but not all of it. I honestly don’t believe I could have made this thing happen under the old system. So to me, the internet is everything – it changed my life, it saved me, it continues to sustain me today. But over the past few years I’ve gotten to know a bunch of artists and industry people who came up in that old system, and who have been watching it fall apart around them. It’s a terrible thing, and as a human being, it’s hard to look those people in the eye while I’m waving the Free Culture flag. So when I read a post like David’s it really knocks me off my feet. What if I’ve been wrong all this time? What if I’ve been suckered in by the Free Culture movement, and all this rah-rah filesharing talk is contributing to the decline of civilization? What if it’s ME who’s on the wrong side of history?

I think David and I agree on at least one point, which is that Emily’s suggestion that buying music isn’t convenient doesn’t really make sense. It’s gotten pretty easy over the last few years to pay for the music that you like. And like David, I think the right choice is to support the artists that you love by giving them money. I also think it’s kind of shitty that there’s a lot of money generated from filesharing activites that makes some people rich and never gets to the artists (see also “Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss”). I agree it would be nice if there were an easy way to fix that.

I’m trying hard to find the place where David and I begin to disagree, and I’m not even sure we do. I think it’s more a matter of our perspectives, and the context in which we see all this stuff happening. I’ll start with this: David points out that Emily’s free music isn’t really free, and that she needed to buy a bunch of stuff in order to get this free music: a smartphone with a data plan, an iPod, a Macbook. He wonders why Emily was OK paying for this very expensive stuff, but not OK paying for music. The answer is obvious: those are physical objects that Emily would have had to steal from a store, out there in meat space, using her actual body and hands, risking physical incarceration and getting in serious trouble. I am quite certain that if Emily could go to a website and download a free illegal copy of a Macbook in the safety of her own home, she would do it. Hell, I might even do it. I don’t know that I can articulate here to everyone’s satisfaction why getting digital music for free is different from getting physical objects for free, but it is hard to argue that it is not, in some fundamental way, very different. Clearly, we all think it’s different, otherwise we would be stealing as many laptops as we are mp3s. Mp3s are lying all over the ground waiting for us to pick them up, and no matter how many we pick up, there are always more. Whether you think picking them up is wrong or not, it would be hard to argue that this is not the current reality.

This difference between physical and digital is the meat in this sandwich. After all, the music business didn’t exist until it became possible to record music onto a medium that could be mass-produced. To be clear, I’m not saying that nobody made money making music before there were records, just that the music industry as we know it is almost exclusively based on the idea that there’s a physical object you can sell, and that access to that physical object is the only way you can play the music whenever you want. That’s obviously over. And it doesn’t just put a bunch of corporate suits at risk, it puts artists at risk. We know that the record industry is falling apart because look at these charts and graphs. The scary thing is, there’s also a very real possibility that in the long term, being a musician will no longer be a thing that you can do to make money.

It’s already happening. The job of being an artist and the business of selling music have both changed and are still changing. The money flows to different places now – it goes to Spotify, Grooveshark, Google, MegaUpload, Apple, Amazon. Some of them give artists a decent cut, some of them give artists nothing at all. Some of them are real douchebags, some of them maybe have the sheen of non-douchebagism, but the truth is that none of those guys care about artists because they are businesses (in contrast with many wonderful label people I have met, who are often fans first and business people second). This is how things are, and it’s good for some people and bad for other people. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

John Roderick tweeted a quote from Michael Penn. I don’t know the source of it, but here it is: “Recorded music exists now in a nether world between commerce and charity, dependent entirely on the ethics of strangers.” He’s not wrong. And that reality has a great deal to do with the fact that music is now a digital thing – it costs almost nothing to reproduce and distribute in unlimited quantities. There is no scarcity anymore, no discrete physical object to build a business around, no reason to pay for it other than wanting to support the artist so they can make more music, a long term proposition that isn’t always the first thing you think of when your finger is hovering over the download link. Some people support artists even though they don’t have to, which is a lot like how it used to be before there were recordings. You might call that nether world between commerce and charity “patronage.”

I believe this is the long-term future of all things, not just music. Here is where I will lose a large percentage of my audience, because I’m now going to get a little science fictiony and start talking about the future of nanotechnology and 3D scanners and printers, and the eden of abundance that awaits us in a glorious future of machine saviors. Stay with me though, because I’m going to bring this back to the David Lowery post in a bit.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s just say that within a few years there will exist a pretty reliable, pretty cheap, consumer 3D printer that you can buy at Staples and have in your house (this is not a crazy thing to say). You can give it the specs of an object and it will print it out in plain white plastic. Your costs are the machine, the raw plastic, the time it takes to print it, and whatever you pay for the digital file that has the object specs (hint: some people are going to charge you, but the internet is going to drive the price of these kinds of files towards $0). Let’s say there’s also some pretty accurate, pretty cheap 3D scanner technology out there too.

Your kid loves Legos. He’s got an X-wing fighter kit that he’s super excited about, and as he’s putting it together, one of the little pointy laser turret pieces on the tips of the wings slips out of his hands and falls down the central air conditioning vent. No problem. You fire up the old internet, and you find www.legowarez.to, the small crazy place where all of the Lego nuts go to obsessively upload and catalog 3D scans of every lego piece that has ever existed. This site is ad supported, and some douchebag in Nigeria is getting rich off it. But you find the file for the piece you need, you download it, and a few minutes later you’ve printed out a replacement piece.

How do you feel about that? Do we need to step in and protect Lego’s interests? I’m assuming that this act is some kind of theft of intellectual property – you are, after all, getting a copy of a thing for free that Lego presumably owns. But their business is not just based on intellectual property, it’s also based on the manufacture of these objects. So I don’t know, you’re not stealing a Lego piece precisely, but you are stealing the idea of a Lego piece, and not just a brick, but a specific custom piece that they spent money and time to design, create, and license from George Lucas. Ethically, it’s a little complicated, right?

Let’s take it further and say that you have a cheap and reliable consumer 3D scanner at home, and every time you get a new set of Legos for your kid, you scan and catalog the whole thing just to make sure you have a backup copy of all the pieces, so you don’t need to poke around the annoying, popup-laden, douchebaggy legowarez site the next time you lose a piece. How’s that? Still OK? Or is that not cool? You are presumably stepping a little bit on their business interests, because that might represent a bunch of replacement pieces you will not be buying from them. And theoretically you could print out a second copy of a Lego set that you only paid for once. But if it’s all just for personal use, maybe you’re OK with that.

What if a new Death Star kit came out and you didn’t buy it, but instead went to the legowarez.to site and just got the whole thing for free and printed it out? This is pretty clearly uncool I think. It’s money that Lego would have gotten but did not – well, probably, assuming you would have bought it in the absence of an available pirated version. In fact, this transaction created some small amount of profit for the douchebag in Nigeria who puts ads on legowarez.to, the 3D printer company, and your internet provider. That’s money that your sense of justice might tell you belongs in Lego’s pockets instead. So, what are our ethical obligations here? Do you think we should figure out a way to shut down legowarez.to? Do you think we need to get the 3D printer company to take some responsibility and give some of that profit back to Lego?

What if the Lego nuts created and uploaded specs for a bunch of Lego pieces that didn’t exist? What if they made, and published for free, the specs for a kit that connected Legos with K’Nex, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, and almost every other extruded plastic construction kit you can think of? (Whoops, someone already did that actually.) That’s kind of cool because it’s an innovation that is otherwise extremely impractical – it makes an end run around about 4,000 lawyers, and crosses all sorts of intellectual property lines, and makes something that enables your kid to create a super awesome log cabin death star ferris wheel. It just would not happen without this technology enabling Lego nuts to be Lego nuts. Now what? Do you feel the need to protect Lego and K’Nex and Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and the entire molded plastic kit industry from this threat to their business? Because once anyone in the world can just make a new Lego kit and publish it online for free, this corner of industry is going to slowly disappear – revenues will drop, layoffs will happen, and career molded plastic kit people will eventually no longer be able to make a living.

Now take all those things that just happened with Legos and imagine them happening with auto parts, shoes, forks, watches, clothing, eyeglasses, medicine, food, beer, smartphones, iPods, Macbooks (and here’s the mind fuck: with 3D printers themselves). Where along this chain do you choose to put on the brakes? (<--Strawman alert: I concede that David Lowery is not advocating the obstruction of the 3D printer industry. Hang on a second.) Now I sound like a crazy utopian futurist person. UNFOLLOW. But I think this is where my thoughts and priorities diverge from what's in David Lowery's post. I believe it's a noble and just pursuit to try to get some of the money that's flowing to MegaUpload and Google to flow to artists. It is definitely on the side of good. And I agree that the ethical choice is to pay for music (because I am an old person). I think it would be nice of Emily and her generation to realize that artists she loves deserve her financial support, and I'm pleased to see that on sites like Kickstarter, patronage is alive and well, at least for now. But I don't know if I'm going to spend a lot of effort trying to convince Emily that what she's doing is wrong, or trying to convince Google to give some of their ad revenue to me. These feel like a short-term goals, a little like skating to where the puck was a few minutes ago. I submit that it is maybe not the right place to focus our efforts. Frankly, I'd prefer it if we could make some progress on this 3D printer technology, because I am missing a lot of Lego pieces. Even though they may spell doom for my profession, Emily's attitudes toward music feel a little bit like a piece of the future to me, a little bit like the way we're all going to feel about Legos and auto parts and eyeglasses in a few decades. Emily's kids are going to be born into a world that makes them think even LESS like us old people about the ethics of intellectual property in the digital realm (a realm that will increasingly include actual physical things). They're going to seem to us like depraved, heartless monsters who think it's OK to steal Legos. Even Emily is going to be shocked and surprised. This is my bias: the decline of scarcity seems inevitable to me. I have no doubt that this fight over mp3s is just the first of many fights we're going to have about this stuff. Our laws and ethics already fail to match up with our behaviors, and for my money, those are the things we should be trying to fix. The change is already happening to us, and it's a change that WE ARE CHOOSING. It's too late to stop it, because we actually kind of like a lot of the things that we're getting out of it. I don't know how to get all that artist money back, and I don't know if we ever will. I don't much like that Spotify pays out so little to me when their service is siphoning directly out of the gas tank of my mp3 sales. But I sure do love having Spotify here on this computer I keep in my pocket. The flood comes and it doesn't matter if the water is right or wrong - you get in the boat, you stack sandbags, you climb on the roof and wait for a helicopter, and sometime later the water is calm and the world looks different. By the way, I also play music: San Francisco tonight, Portland Thursday, Seattle Friday, Vancouver Saturday. Come on out and tell me why I’m wrong.

99 responses to “Emily and David”

  1. TPRJones says:

    Another way to look at it is that the culture is moving towards infinite free demos. Everything is available for free and most people will treat is as a demo. If you keep it it was because you liked it enough to keep it. And if you liked it enough to keep it, you’ll end up wanting to support the artist. That’s where I think our culture is heading.

    The idea that copying it in the first place as a “free demo” is theft won’t even be a part of the conversation anymore in another few decades, except for a few old bitter media execs who are still ranting about it in retirement homes across the country.

  2. While I am in complete agreement vis-à-vis the morality that “Piracy” (or rather, illegal downloading) is wrong, the question is raised as to what you can do about it. Legislation like SOPA and PIPA and trade agreements like ACTA and TPP are unacceptable for many reasons. So is DRM. Also, both will not be effective at stopping piracy. As it turns out, the only thing that has been able to contain piracy is making copyrighted material easier to buy. Here are some examples:

    1. Bandcamp: As it turns out, Bandcamp is such an beneficial service to DIY musicians (like me) and their customers alike that they even lure some would-be pirates away from potential illegal downloading.

    A few months ago, we began tracking the starting point of every sale that happens on Bandcamp. In the course of looking at the data (which we’re using to help us plan out what to do next), we’ve noticed something awesome: every day, fans are buying music that they specifically set out to get for free.

    For example, just this morning someone paid $10 for an album after Googling “lelia broussard torrent.” A bit later, a fan plunked down $17 after searching for “murder by death, skeletons in the closet, mediafire.” Then a $15 sale came in from the search “maimouna youssef the blooming hulkshare.” Then a fan made a $12 purchase after clicking a link on music torrent tracker What.CD. Then someone spent $10 after following a link on The Pirate Bay, next to the plea “They sell their album as a download on their website. You can even choose your format (mp3, ogg, flac, etc). Cmon, support this awesome band!”

    If some of your paying customers are taken away from the path of piracy, that is undoubtedly a good thing!

    Source: http://blog.bandcamp.com/2012/01/03/cheaper-than-free/

    2. Kickstarter. This has been mentioned before, but it just shows you that there are indeed business models out there for new art to be created. I should know, I pledged to quite a few myself!

    3. Louis CK. Louis CK was able to sell his special DRM free on his web site for $5, and he made over $1,000,000 from downloads alone. This is startling because his show was also available for free from the Pirate Bay (some of whose downloaders also – like with Bandcamp example above – paid for it from his web site).

    4. Steam. I’ve saved the best for last. Gabe Newell has been on record as saying that piracy isn’t a legal or technical problem but a service problem. He has backed up his words by his business, which is selling PC games over the internet. He even was able to sell PC games in Russia, a land where it was believed where everybody pirated and selling PC games over the internet was impossible.

    What’s my point in all these examples? My point is this: Sure, it will get easier to copy, and there will still be people like Emily. But make your content as appealing and easy to buy as possible, and I’m sure that even Emily would buy music.

  3. zoso says:

    Thank you Jonathan, and I’m glad you’ve had an opportunity to re-evaluate your position on so called free culture. People like free in pretty much any form, but as adults we know that is a largely unsustainable reality. People need to understand that you need to pay for the Piper as well as the Pipes…

    I don’t believe anything is inevitable at this point. If it was, people could go about their business and stop positing their opinions about the future they would like to see on internet forums.

    I find it strange that the same people opposed to artists being paid for their investment in their art, find no problem with Silicon Valley VC’s being paid for their investments in companies who exploit the very artists who make the VC’s investment valuable.

    In the battle for Artists Rights (and NOT for the RIAA/MPAA labels, studios, whatever), I call upon the words of MLK in urging anyone effected by the Illegal Exploitation Of Artists… “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King


  4. dave says:

    If anything, I think you haven’t stepped back far enough, and seen how broadly this Diamond Age reaches. You bring up the 3D printer, manufacturing in plastic. Now let’s extend it a bit and create one that can manufacture in metal, better yet, applying multiple layers and alloys of different metals on the fly (ie copper and zinc). This is not technically unfeasible.

    Now, let’s create a deep 3D scan of a quarter. Now, reproduce the quarter flawlessly on our 3D metal printer.

    See where this goes? Cash is a function of physical scarcity. Making copies of cash is called counterfeiting, and it’s against the law. But counterfeits have always been flawed, detectable. Or too expensive. What happens when we wind up with Cylon dollars, perfectly replicated from a 3D digital model? The counterfeit becomes, if not perfect, at least beyond human detection.

    Easy duplication of information has severely damaged the information scarcity model, to the point where some industries (particularly music) are on the brink of collapse. They relied on physical scarcity to enforce informational scarcity (you had to buy a piece of plastic with the music encoded on it). Now, we’re on the verge of being able to replicate the physical using easily stored information. It’s scary, and it’s very difficult to tell what new economic basis will work.

  5. Zoso: I take issue with your arguments. I’ll take it one a time:

    Thank you Jonathan, and I’m glad you’ve had an opportunity to re-evaluate your position on so called free culture. People like free in pretty much any form, but as adults we know that is a largely unsustainable reality. People need to understand that you need to pay for the Piper as well as the Pipes…

    Ed: Emphasis Mine.

    I think some people do know that. Or enough know that. If they didn’t Kickstarter would have been a failure.

    I find it strange that the same people opposed to artists being paid for their investment in their art, find no problem with Silicon Valley VC’s being paid for their investments in companies who exploit the very artists who make the VC’s investment valuable.

    Explain who these evil, diabolical “Silicon Valley VC’s” are. Do you mean Google? The same one that has launched Google Play, a music store? The same one whose YouTube provides AdSense for songwriters if the song they wrote is used in a video? Or do you mean Bandcamp, the web site that advertises how much money it has made artists on its front page?

    In the battle for Artists Rights (and NOT for the RIAA/MPAA labels, studios, whatever), I call upon the words of MLK in urging anyone effected by the Illegal Exploitation Of Artists… “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

    I’m not going to be silent. That’s why I’m speaking out against would-be censors who would want laws like SOPA and PIPA and trade agreements like ACTA and TPP (not saying you are one, BTW).


    Oh, he just dug up those artist’s quotes on the internet without actual context as to what their actual position is. There’s a lot of nuance between “piracy is wrong” and “piracy justifies every draconian copyright law ever”. Even Lawrence Lessig, the Free Culture movement founder, thinks piracy is wrong:

    “piracy”…is a denial of a choice by a copyright owner. It says to the creator, “I don’t care what you want. I am taking what you have created.” It doesn’t respect the freedom that copyright law gives to the creator. It denies that the law should secure to the creator any such freedom to choose. The only relevant choice in pirate culture is the choice of the pirate to take. Not the choice of the creator to make her work available.

    But that doesn’t mean he’s pro-crazy-law. If that author were so concerned about the welfare of Artists and songwriters, he would actually notice the good things Google has actually done for artists (such as the aforementioned AdSense for YouTube plays and GooglePlay, an iTunes/Amazon-like-service) and not go on a crusade against them.

  6. Mike Woodhouse says:

    I think the 11,000 song thing needs a little thought. At 3’30” each, that’s about 640 hours of music. At 16 hours a day, 365 days a year, Emily’s going to listen to each of those songs about 9 times a year. On average, if she’s giving the songs attention every waking minute of the day. I’d say she probably has more music than she can sensibly keep available and listen to. My MP3 player currently holds about 4K songs and I use it about 2-3 hours per weekday. It takes nearly 5 months to listen to everything at that rate. What does this mean? I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if it’s reasonable to make a direct link between Emily having these files (which cost next-to-nothing to acquire and store) and insisting that she should pay for them, despite the likelihood that much of what she has she’ll probably never consciously listen to.

    I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of corporate entities who rely on manufacturing what they design will go the way of the buggy-whip makers. As already described, Lego will need to reinvent itself or fall by the wayside, as the scarcity of those one-off pieces falls to approximately nil.

    I think some aspects of the abundance economy are already discussed here: subscribe via Kickstarter (and the variants that will follow) to provide the enabling resources for creatives to, er, create. Amanda Palmer is the obvious leading light here, and JoCo will not, I suggest, be far behind. Beyond that, there’s the one-to-one (or one-to-not-very-many) supply of a hard-to-duplicate skill or service.

    It’s all very interesting. Sadly, being in my 50s I regret that I probably won’t live long enough to see how it all ends. Ho hum, interesting times indeed.

  7. John Connor says:

    Izabella Kaminska at FT Alphaville (http://ftalphaville.ft.com/) has been running a series of articles on abundance and the fact that the current financial crisis / recession / depression is actually the result of a shift from artificial scarcity to actual abundance. So, looks like econ writers agree with your thoughts around this too.


  8. Sam X says:

    Pretty interesting thoughts, Coulton, thanks for sharing–I share your worries about adding to a discussion you feel unprepared for, but there are complex moral/ethical issues in addition to the economic issues, and I think every smart person available should contribute their voice. It’s only through such a wide-ranging discussion can we as a society begin to understand our situation and perhaps create a better one.

    Like everyone in the world, I recently posted about the Emily/David exchange. What’s lost in this discussion is that while the new model is detrimental to the old model–i.e., musicians like David Lowery (or even yourself, Coulton)–there are people who are doing what they love because digital media exists.

    Specifically, I’m think of webcoming publishers. Penny Arcade, Jeph Jacques, Danielle Corsetto, many others make a living on their webcomics. The topics are too niche and their language often too vulgar for proper newspaper distribution, but on the Internet they soar. A handful of book self-publishers are now making a living–and a plethora of smalltime bands can get their music easily heard across the nation.

    It’s a beautiful revolution of accessible art, and as you suggest Coulton, it foreshadows future revolutions on the basic ideas of property.

  9. Al E. says:

    I want a 3d Printer so that I can make a buggy whip.

  10. Ari's Take says:

    Nice illustration Jonathan! I like how you took this debate and shot it 20 years down the line (or 10..er..6?). Music is the warm up for everything else.

    Now to bring my personal anecdotes, as a full-time, independent musician to the discussion. I am part of a large majority of independent musicians who don’t bitch and moan about the old music model and the “good ol days” when we could make money by sitting at home waiting for album sales checks to pour in. We understand the reality of the new music industry and embrace it. It’s a losing battle to scream that “it’s unfair.” It’s ALWAYS been unfair.

    I have spent the past 4.5 years as a FULL-TIME independent musician spending about half of my year on the road MAKING MONEY. I had to get quite creative on how to make LOTS of money, but I have made between $35k-70k gross annual income as a completely independent artist (no management, no label, no publisher, no agent) by being smart about the business side of music and embracing the new model. I, like many of my friends’ bands, spend a big part of our year on the road and are building our fan base in a grass roots manner and actually making money.

    Do I think artists should be paid for their recordings? Absolutely. I shelled out about $15,000 for my latest album (thanks in part to Kickstarter). Am I going to cry that I won’t make this back on solely album sales? No! I will in ticket and merch sales and a bit of licensing.

    The industry is changing and instead of presenting the moral arguments on why we should return to the old system, the conversation should be more about how to move with the times and enter into the new model. Recorded music is now a loss leader (unfortunately) for everything else.

    Will musicians like me sacrifice quality in our recordings because people aren’t going to buy it? Absolutely not. It’s our art and we will perfect it and keep quality at the forefront of everything we do because that’s important to us as musicians and artists. But us young, independent, grassroots artists understand that to be successful in this new industry is to understand the reality and current state of the biz and use it to our advantage.

    I lay all of this out and explain how I did (and am doing) it as an independent, full-time musician and try and help other independent musicians enable themselves to do it as well in my (very new) music biz advice blog (shameless plug) Ari’s Take: http://aristake.com

    Thanks for the healthy, constructive discussion.

    Ari Herstand (27), Los Angeles/Minneapolis

  11. Mike Stone says:

    In a 3D printed world, the mechanics of scarcity don’t disappear, they just move to a place where they look different.

    Right now we think of scarcity in terms of fabrication and distribution. It’s an easy model to understand because in both cases the effort needed to do the job is obvious. There’s another form of scarcity that people don’t think about though: the skill needed to design the thing in the first place.

    Yeah, widget designers get paid.. probably a salary, maybe a bonus for a product that really sells well, but the real money — the ongoing revenue — goes to the people who fabricate and distribute.

    Internet distribution of music, and the 3D-printed world in general, happen because the cost of entry into the fabrication-and-distributuion business falls into the reach of the consumer. My MacBook, my iPhone, my network connection, and my 3D printer are a factory.. one that I could afford as an individual, and which is a good investment for me because it allows me to out-compete the guys with pressing plants and fleets of trucks.

    None of the gear that I’ve purchased can replace the one truly scarce resource in this whole equation: the talents of the creators.

    Thing is, the music industry is wierd. People think they should get paid every time a product is used.

    Other design industries don’t work that way. The people who designed the keyboard I’m tapping right now don’t get a payment for every keypress. They did the design, they got paid for it on terms that have only the faintest connection to projections of individual or collective use, and they went on to the next job.

    Yeah, there’s some connection between their pay and sales of the physical product, but it’s arcane. They get paid for their work even if a product is never released, for instance.

    Today’s music industry revolves around what the Writer’s Guild calls “spec work”. You do all the work up front, deliver it, *then* hope to get paid. The labels are the ones who built and maintained that business model, so presumably it works well for them. It doesn’t work so well for the artists though, because “being a professional musician” is a gamble, not a job.

    Tomorrow’s musicians and 3D-printed-object designers will get paid more or less the way they do now. They’ll create a proposal, shop it around, and arrange a payment-for-product schedule that both sides can accept. The difference is that the money will come directly from the public that wants the work.

    Amanda Palmer just did that on Kickstarter, and made a respectable return.. and that was just an “I’m going to produce an album” proposal.

    Other models are possible. Jonathan, if you announced to the world, “I want to earn $X much salary to be a musician this year, and here’s what I plan to deliver,” I assure you that people would take it seriously. Add reasonable investment/return and payment/delivery schedules, and I think you’d probably make your goal.

    It wouldn’t be patronage either.. it would be plain, hard business between you the creator, and us the clients.

  12. Duann says:


    Come visit us at shapeways hq when you are in NYC and we can talk through some of the amazing stuff our community of over 150,000 are 3d printing.

  13. AC says:

    I’ll start respecting copyright when the ‘entertainment industry’ stops buying Congressmen.

  14. Chris says:

    “These feel like a short-term goals, a little like skating to where the puck was a few minutes ago.” Agreed. You’ve given us quite a bit to chew on here. Thank you, Jonathan.

  15. Billy Gannon says:

    Thanks for the article. I completely agree and I’m glad I have a phrase for this – a decline in scarcity.
    The music industry will survive – but it will be very different. People want to hear good music and people will find new ways of funding it.

    But let’s take the idea of scarcity to new and scarier levels! How about money? Surely the internet provides the possibility of endless currency. Maybe we should pay people in songs?

  16. Jonathan Murphy says:

    Such a great post. Your thought experiment gets to the heart of the matter, which is why I never understood why people have online fights about small issues of current legality. It’s a massive cultural tidal wave that is going to consume everything in its path.

    I would move your argument one more step forward, and suggest something that I never hear from anyone: “We’ll work it out.” We’ll work it out. Why wouldn’t we? Maybe once people can’t afford to be professional musicians, more people will start playing instruments again. When no one can afford to make $3 million dollar an episode television shows, maybe we’ll start doing our own sci-fi epics in a basement theater. Maybe everyone will figure out how to entertain themselves for awhile. At some point we’ll get bored of that so we’ll figure out a way to pay the people with talent, and who work at being talented, enough to make a living.

    Older people always talk about the tragedy of their industries going away. I get it: if newspapers, great musicians, our favorite televisions shows, and legos disappear we will suffer a great loss. Things will get definitely get shittier. Maybe for awhile. But, my response is always, so what? So what if things get shittier. We can still have dinner parties and drink beer and goof off. We’ll work it out.

    Gillian Welch wrote Everything is Free in 2001 that pretty much sums it up. Here is a youtube search of it, where you can watch her play it, tons of bands cover it, people in front of a webcam learning to play guitar doing it, remixes of it etc…

    here is a half japanese half german kid singing it

  17. I’d like to bring up something that David asked in his response – which you sort of touch on here. You say the reason Emily will fork out money for physical goods like Mac’s, phones, etc. is because she can’t go and download them for free, so there is no substitute for those products. So my question is, so what are musicians & the music industry to do now? Just ignore the fact that people are willingly breaking the law and committing acts of piracy, because they can’t stop it? We just accept that in this sector, piracy will run rampant and we should just look the other way? I don’t think thats the right answer, for many reasons, but the main one is that it sets a terrible example / precedent. In all aspects of life, when something bad happens, or an injustice occurs, the response shouldn’t just be to “look away” or “accept it”, even if you can’t stop it.

    Also, your example re: 3D printing, at least at the beginning, when you mention downloading a lego piece that was accidentally destroyed… well in that example, at least you ORIGINALLY purchased the product, legally, and you are just replacing a broken part. I think a comparative example in music would be if you scratched a CD and one of the tracks didn’t play anymore. You purchased the unit, so you are in the right, and just downloading a “fix” for your small problem would probably be acceptable to most. It gets sticky when you are talking about the ENTIRE unit, and in the circumstance that you didn’t pay for it up-front.

  18. Wilson says:

    Maybe someone can find this book interesting: an analysis of IP and it’s effect on economics and artist revenues: http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstfinal.htm
    Someone will be surprised to know that presence of copyright has actually reduced revenues and production.

  19. Mike says:

    “… a specific custom piece that they spent money to… license from George Lucas.”

    Oh , you mean the creator of star wars that has grossed over $33 BILLION dollars, the guy who hasn’t paid the actor for Darth Vader any residuals because the movie “hasn’t made a profit” ?


    Yeah, those poor “artists”, who make $33b but don’t pay their actors. Gee, I’d be such a thief if I downloaded that movie off bittorrent and didn’t pay for it, wouldn’t I ? I’d almost be as big a thief as the people who made the movie itself !

  20. Brad H. says:

    joseph, your thinking is incorrect on a number of levels, but the easiest one to demonstrate is that there are perfectly legal and socially acceptable ways under the old paradigm to deprive artists of theoretical money (such as with the BMG music clubs where artists got zero, because the records were “free”) Under a library/loan system, a single purchased copy can be transferred to an arbitrarily large number of people who did not have to pay. The new paradigm is illegal and not socially acceptable to you, but the idea that any greater injustice has occurred than under the old paradigm is flat out wrong.

    A truly “ethical” system of commerce would very likely have artists receiving much, much less compensation, for the same reason that a professional basketball player “ought” to earn less money than an EMT.

    “so what are musicians & the music industry to do now?”
    If they believe that what they do is valuable to the public, then they ought to lobby for their product to be considered a public good, and paid for by taxes. Canada, for example, has a grants program in place for Canadian artists, and despite its faults, it is instrumental in keeping alive a local music culture.

  21. Matěj Cepl says:


    I am neither American nor Irish, so only last week I’ve heard first time about John Ford’s movie “The Silent Man”. I put the name to the Youtube search and after a few clicks I found http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxoXz-apwH8 I don’t believe anybody in the Republic pictures (or whoever bought their catalog) or in Google could miss complete uncut copy of the movie (and since recently it is not the first full-length copy of the movie which could be found on YouTube), so I guess they either post it there by themselves or they are silently complicit with it being there. However, in case they would need to they can anytime charge anybody from the copyright infringement. That whole double-talk, lies, misleading information and conspiracy, which makes me so disgusted with the system, that I have tendency to cheat. So far i don’t (and I rather support more serious publishers like Magnatune), but I am really not sure why I should be honest when the other side isn’t.


  22. Jay Turley says:

    Decline of scarcity is in fact the root of the problem. In a universe of abundance, how do you limit people from enjoying it? By imposing artificial scarcity. And artificial limits quickly fall.

    We need to rethink our entire approach. I personally think this will be accompanies by transition into a post-money economy where reputation matters instead of greed.

  23. Before there was recorded music, performers were retained by wealthy patrons either on a temporary basis, viz, traveling performers or as part of the household. In the Baroque era, a musician would most often have a second skillset, such as gardening, in order to acquire an in-house appointment. It is important to note that musicians were paid to perform. Royalties only began to become available with the advent of recorded music when recordings were, as Jonathan says, physical objects that could and did wear out. Once they became nothing more than electronic documents the era of royalty earning recordings ended. The only reason it has struggled on is that a corrupt state can be bought by established business interests to lend the police power of the state to intrude on personal privacy.

    Acting was the same way. Prior to recorded performances with a physical substance, actors were paid to perform, not given royalties for past performances.

    Jonathan misses a few subtle but very real points with his 3D printing analogy. Additive printed objects are only 30% as strong as their injection molded counterparts. If you want printed Lego parts, you have to redesign the blocks to achieve the same robustness. Once you do that, you are no longer making Legos. You may be liable for trademark violations if you insist on calling what you print Legos, but you are not making Lego blocks per se any more.

    It gets more interesting when you put scanners into the mix. A scanned copy of a patented object does not create a patent violation. Only if you use the original design documents to make the copy are you in patent violation. Ask anybody who makes spare parts for engines if you don’t believe me. :-)

  24. David Muir says:

    Artificial scarcity will always fail eventually, even with tons of laws in place to try to “mold morality” on the subject.

    Mike Stone already mentioned that scarcities move around. In an age of digital abundance and the cost of distribution falling almost to zero, new scarcities actually rise up. For example: the scarcity of attention. Time spent with the artists directly, or personalization of the music, or even licensing in other media (TV/movies) that includes personal appearances. So many artists and so little time to enjoy them all. What about the scarcity of expertise in curation or cataloging?

    A business model based on REAL scarcities will always succeed over one based on artificial ones.

  25. Demetrius says:

    I would TOTALLY buy a song about that bear you described!

  26. etho says:

    Well, you’ve convinced me. I’m off to pirate all your music.

    Seriously, though, I’m definitely in that category of youngsters that don’t pay for music much anymore. I’m a little older than Emily, so I can’t say I’ve NEVER paid for music. As a kid, I had quite a collection of CDs. But now? I dunno. I do what I can to support artists I appreciate, but frankly, I am an unemployed college student living on financial aid. I just can’t afford to buy music the way I did when I had an allowance from my parents. So what it feels like Lowery is saying (and I realize that he’s NOT, not explicitly, but it is hard not to infer it) is that I shouldn’t have music because I can’t afford to buy CDs anymore. I reject that wholly, and I don’t really think any actual artist (Lowery included) would really take that position. So I can’t afford to pay for all the music I listen to. But I also definitely want to support the artists I like, but it has to take different forms, usually somewhat larger, but more occasional contributions. I save my pennies and buy merch and concert tickets. Or if I have a few bucks left over after buying groceries, I’ll pick one of my favorite albums, and buy a copy of it, even though I already have the digital files on my computer. And, as I tend to support artists that would never really get big label support in any era, I feel reasonably ethical.

    Oh, sure, I have my Lady Gaga on my computer, and I’ll probably never buy her albums or go to one of her shows. But, while I kind of enjoy her music, I don’t enjoy it so much that I would bother to buy it if the files weren’t available on legowarez.to. I feel a bit more conflicted about that, but I can’t really see giving her (or, more accurately, her label) any money even if it was my only option for getting her music, so…? It’s not really a lost sale, but should I be paying for it just because I like it a little bit? I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s a question for JoCo: would you, as an artist, rather i listen to your music and not pay for it, or not listen to it and not pay for it? Obviously the ideal would be to pay and listen, but as I said, I just can’t afford that for all the music I like.

    I tend to assume that most artists would rather I listen, and tell my friends how much I like them, than not listen because of a lack of money. Maybe that’s just how I keep the guilt at bay. But I don’t see what I do as unethical exactly, but neither is it optimal.

    So that’s my situation, and to be perfectly honest, I can see my current habits becoming an ongoing pattern of usually not paying for music files, even when I can afford it. I’d like to think I won’t, but it’s hard to say.

    There is also the issue of convenience. You are correct that it is pretty easy to buy music. But it can still be a pain in the ass to use the files once you buy them. Legitimately purchased music files tend to be less transferable and less versatile than the illegal ones. I could buy and rip physical CDs, but A) I only have so much space, and it is full of cats and books and game consoles and B) physical media is for chumps.

  27. austin says:

    “video killed the radio star”
    new technology tends to destroy old models, people who make their living on those models may find their skills dont transfer to the new medium or the new medium can’t hold the standard of living/income they are used to. just as video killed the radio star, or the car killed the buggy business and there is some question of whether warhammer can survive the internet (3d printers and PDFs pretty much kill their business model) most in the molded plastic market have some work to do to stay relevant. but the solution is finding your place in the new model, or going somewhere else, not kicking and screaming an fighting tooth an nail til you are dragged forcibly into the future.
    creative work may need to be done on a commission basis. being payed only to make the original product then distributing for free or you may need to find some other niche to exploit to make money to support yourself on your work. or you may need another job that pays the bills.

    i think most people will pay for creative work, if you make a model for a 3d printer, or an album, or a video,or whatever and you include a donate button many people will donate. alternatively if you sell the product at a reasonable price people will pay for…not everyone but many because most people at least TRY to be fair and honest.

  28. Mark G says:

    No one had a problem when Picard made Earl Greys on The Replicator®. You think he stopped there?

  29. G says:

    By then IP will be a pointless term. Post scarcity even creative brain power will be a cheap commodity. A small bit of the AI network could write and perform your entire body of work better than you in less than a nanosecond. AI can write the greatest works of fiction we have read, know better than us what it means to be human. Novelists and song writers, painters and interpretative dancers, all artists will be also-rans, creating works that meagerly parrot that of the greatest AI constructs. But not just artists. Beyond manufacturers, there would be no need for programmers, industrial designers, architects, any creative professionals, really. We would be, simply, a culture of consumers, and maybe, if we are still lucky, explorers. But then, why explore the universe when all outcomes for it have been simulated and can be explored from the comfort of home?

  30. uthor says:

    FY about 3D printer technology:
    The way most DIY 3D printers are made is some guy makes the parts on an existing 3D printer and gives them to the next to guy to put together. They, in effect, already make copies of themselves.

    More mind boggling is that 3D printers can make newer, upgraded parts that are used to improve the 3D printer itself. The device makes [i]itself[/i] better. It’s not hard to imagine a 3D printer where every component has been replaced by a new piece made by that 3D printer.

  31. Cesar says:

    This exactly. Downloading illegally an album does not equals to stealing a bicycle from a store, but to copying it or “printing” an exact duplicate. I don’t know but I think a bicycle manufacturer wouldn’t care if I copied my friend’s bicycle, unless I intend to make a bunch and sell them for cheaper, but if there were enough 3D printers out there…

    Now, there’s a very peculiar instance which has been accepted by society, artists, and labels (I believe) and that has the very same characteristics and results of pirating music: buying used CD’s/records. A store is selling artists music and making a profit, which can be a very considerable one, yet not of that money is seen by artists or labels. It’s almost like someone in China selling burned CD’s of popular music, almost.

    Part of the problem is that what you’re buying when you buy music is just the right to listen to it whenever you want, and in a cyber world seems rather complicated to stop people from listening to music whenever they want without paying. Seems like a lost war to me. Is there a way to make people making a profit using in any way other people’s music pay a license? I’m not sure, maybe.

    Anyway, I came up with the same conclusions in a much less eloquent and almost infantile (in comparison) blog I wrote here: http://www.ce54r.com/2012/06/thoughts-on-open-letter-to-emily-white.html. A friend of mine just told me about this blog because of this.

  32. Austin says:

    I was on the “Whee, everything I can consume is free” band for a little bit, but I got off the train because, well, it’s stealing. Bottom line. And from a karma standpoint, I know it’s wrong. You can make up all kinds of creative rationalizations, but if you have to work at rationalizing then that is your first clue that there is a bad smell here.

    You make a great point with your Lego example, and I agree that day is coming quick. Personally, I like the approach of seeding the interwebs with versions of the “cracked” and “free” file that are fundamentally flawed. As soon as you make it difficult for your average user to get the goods without having to worry about their machine getting hosed, you’ll find that dropping a quarter for the template for the missing piece is a lot easier then having to go to the trouble of getting rid of the virus ( or physically fixing ) my 3D printer.

    I think another model that is showing us what the future could look like is the App Store model. It took me a long time before I bought my first app, and once I got over the fear of it, I don’t think twice about dropping .99 here, there, everywhere. This model works because the network for the device is basically locked up by the provider ( Apple to an extreme, Google following relatively closely behind. ) Sure, I COULD jailbreak the thing, but why? On the bell shaped curve, only an extremely small set is going to go to that trouble, no matter how easy you make it. So I think that we’ll move more from an increasingly difficult to maintain DRM model to a closed network model.

  33. Tyler says:

    First and foremost, I’m guilty of many, many cases of what this girl has done. At 15, I have pirated(STOLEN) video games for my PC, and many, many movies. I also have illegally downloaded music.

    It’s not right, by any means. Will I stop? Probably not, to be honest. I mean, I sincerely felt guilty when I had downloaded Artificial Heart day one, because I simply couldn’t pay for it. I wanted to hear it, knew I could in fact, and went ahead. It’s a sick reality for the industry. Recently, I did delete many of the things I’d pirated out of guilt(Not my entire collection though, which still means I’m just as guilty as Emily.) and realized that “Sure, one sale doesn’t hurt anyone.” But I’m not just one sale.

    I’m a generation to be exact. I’m one of the worse ones of this group as well. A $.99 mp3 to begin with, and most people don’t ever go beyond the few hundred/thousand mp3s in their life. But some who have the know how move up and takes bigger things. A movie copy. A full video game. Software. Operating Systems are huge sources of money for a computer company(Microsoft makes a massive profit off of each Windows release for example). These small crimes add up. They destroy entire industries. I mean, sure Microsoft won’t collapse because people don’t all pay for Windows 8 Ultimate, but it will hurt them. Reduce the quality of their next project(Theoretically) and begin the decline that we’re seeing in the music industry.

    As music becomes more accessible in this manner, the industry will fall more and more. Artists will struggle more and more. Sure, the pop stars won’t have issues for awhile, their revenue isn’t sales. They get money from being THEM. Sponsoring products, appearances at venues, product lines of things other than musicv(Justin Bieber Perfume anyone?) but other artists, independent, lesser known ones, such as JoCo himself, will fall behind, unable to pay to do what they love, and in the end, helps them support themselves. As each generation comes up, they find more and more ways to pirate these things, and down the road it won’t be digital files of Artificial Heart or The Avengers movie, it’ll be Press Patterns for Sheet Metal Siding, or instructions to “homebrew” medicines such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and eventually prescriptions*.

    I don’t help the problem. I exacerbate it. I don’t try to prevent it, I aid in teaching others the ways of gaining these things free. It’s sick what I do… But it’s reality. In the modern age of technology such as the internet… This is the way the world ends. Slowly we indulge ourselves into this “Free” Market and we destroy industries, destroying our economy, and the lives of those who built it, such as artists and workers, and leaving anarchist states, which all insist upon mass murder of anyone who doesn’t believe everyone has a right to everything.**

    *An exaggeration, in case I must point it out.

    **That sentence’s importance ended at the end of the phrase artists and workers.

  34. Doya says:

    Cesar said: “Now, there’s a very peculiar instance which has been accepted by society, artists, and labels (I believe) and that has the very same characteristics and results of pirating music: *buying used CD’s/records.*”

    Used music isn’t a problem, but used video games are a MASSIVE issue right now. All the major companies – Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, have come out with digital downloads for their consoles to combat this by ensuring every purchase goes to them, not someone off eBay or Craigslist. Game developers have implemented ‘online passes’, where if you bought a used game and want to play the online multiplayer, you’re charged an extra $15 or $20. Some game publishers actually require ALWAYS ON internet connections to play the game. That’s an offline, singleplayer, by yourself game we’re talking about. The DRM (which never works in preventing piracy anyway) is getting insane and ever more labyrinthine.

    But don’t think that the music industry isn’t whining about used record shops out of the goodness of their hearts – the used music market simply isn’t as big as used games, due to the nature of the media. People play a game, finish the storyline, and are generally done with it, whereas people keep albums around to revisit for years or indefinitely. Not to mention that a video game costs $60 as opposed to the album’s $10-$15, and people like to recoup some of that cost. Rest assured that if millions of albums were being traded, they’d be up in arms about it.

    Music piracy seems to be the main focus of discussion these days, but the tech-savvy have moved on to pirate any form of information. I know people who haven’t paid for movies, TV, computer programs, video games, operating systems, textbooks, or novels in years. And as Internet speed and bandwidth grows ever faster and cheaper, we’ll see the same thing that happened to the music industry (and that’s currently happening to the game industry) happen to every other one I listed.

    Maybe we just have to give up on the idea that information = property. Maybe we should embrace the downfall of these monolithic, impenetrable industries. We can erect a smaller, more sustainable business model in its place where donations go directly to the content creators. All I know is we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand like the music industry did and pretend that DRM will be enough to stop this sea change.

  35. I’m an “old” guy who has been writing music since 1975. I don’t pine for the good old days, because under the old model, the only way to find a significant audience was with the gate keepers permission, and what I did was not what they were interested in at the time.

    Now I’m finding an audience. More people are making and releasing records than ever before. (75,000 cd length releases in 2010 – up from 35,000 in 2004 and down from a spike up to 115,000 in 2008, due to a whole pile of record catalogs being released as “new.”)

    The reason that people don’t (and shouldn’t) feel bad about file sharing is that it’s airplay for guys like us that would never have gotten it under the old system. People heard “free” music all the time and still do – and the labels pay for the air time. It’s called payola and they get around the law by hiring “independent” promoters to funnel the money to radio stations.

    But the other reason that people don’t feel bad, is because you can’t “own” a song. Once it’s out in the world, it “belongs” to the person who is hearing it. Believe me, I’d love to “return” Achy Breaky Heart” and never hear it again, but it’s in my memory, probably for good.

    When you re-arrange the ones and zeros on your hard drive, you’re not depriving anyone of anything. PLEASE give me 100,000 people downloading my stuff this year because they truly like the song. If I can’t turn that into an audience, I don’t deserve the job.

    You can’t own an idea. You can try to lock it up for awhile, but they have a life of their own. If you’re really lucky, it becomes part of the culture.

  36. Roman Armstrong says:

    I always enjoy reading your stuff. Sometimes, it reaffirms my own beliefs (i.e., your original thoughts on the MegaUpload shutdown), other times it gets me thinking.

    I’m 18 years old–3 years behind that girl who never grew up with physical music. I am, however, seeing that transition with video games. In a lot of ways, it’s the same. Used to be, if I wanted a game, I got the disc. I owned that thing. Now, between digital distribution and DRM, nothings absolutely certain. If a publisher wants to take that game back, the only thing I can do to stop them is to never open it, or the program that runs it, again. That works the other way around, too; there will always be someone willing to crack a game to make it free, or design an emulator to run something that doesn’t work anymore.

    It comes down to this: how many people like the product? How many of them CAN pay for it? If the designer or distributor was going out of business, how many of them WILL pay to keep them running?

    I can guarantee that, should you give all of your music away for free and subsist only on donations, you’d make almost the same amount as you do now. I could find any of your 99 cent songs for free on a filesharing site, but I won’t do that. I like you, and your music. I’ll do my part to keep it coming.

  37. Laura says:

    FWIW, I buy your stuff and go to your concerts because I like you. Just like I buy stuff from Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Joss Whedon, Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi (blah blah blah) because I like them. I do not like Orson Scott Card. Might still read his stuff, but not if I think it’ll benefit him financially.

    Copyright exists to promote progress in science and the useful arts; not to create profit centers as an ends to themselves. A lot of what I see RIAA and their ilk doing undercuts the constitutional purpose in favor of the profit one, and one way they’re doing that is try to make file sharing the moral equivalent to theft. I don’t buy it. Sharing a file does not deprive the lawful holder of the files, only of the unknown potential for a sale. It cracks me up that the Millennials aren’t buying it either.

    By the way, I was at the Seattle show and BOUGHT Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow on the strength of the Cthulhu ode, which I’d never heard before.

  38. James says:

    I wonder if anyone has looked at the movie business in this area. Certainly, pirated movies are a problem, but it also seems that the movie industry is finding a way to keep making money / surviving (and, if you follow Lowery, which I mostly do, plowing money back into new “art”). More and more movies are coming to your satellite / cable provider earlier and earlier. I honestly don’t know what this has done to movie-theater receipts, but I wonder whether these new revenue streams are making up for any losses? Admittedly, the movie theaters have something to “sell” (the experience, the going out, the hoping-for-a-kiss-at-the-subway-stairs, whatever) that you don’t QUITE get streaming, and I don’t see anything analogous on the digital-music side. Maybe it’s the fact that movies are produced (i.e., financed) largely independently of the distributor, but since the distributor (i.e. studio) is still making money, money still gets back to the “artist” (i.e. the studio is willing to pay for distribution rights). I know it’s a little more complicated than that. (In fact, my ignorance is part of why I post this: I’d love someone more knowledgeable than me to weigh in.)

    Or maybe the entire issue boils down to the fact that good-quality digital movie files have been, until RELATIVELY recently, just a little too big to easily pass around, and the movie industry will face the same situation very soon.

  39. ^ Movies are complicated though because so many of us like to enjoy them easily and quickly and with friends.

    Jonathan you mentioned your “mp3 sales” …. 20 years before this though you had no mp3 sales. I’d say most big artists today are popular *because* of the current system of free distribution of their music.

    It’s like a blessing and a curse, right? This new crazy system allows small artists that are really really good to blow up, but when those stars do blow up they can’t turn around the complain about mp3 sales …. this was the very system they rode on to get popular.

  40. Todd says:

    does the scarcity just move? So the scarcity goes from the end product to the raw materials &/or energy it takes to produce them? I guess my hope is that a decrease in scarcity maps to a decrease in the cost to live such that the creators don’t _need_ to make as much as they did and so it all balances out. Perhaps overly optimistic, but if we had limitless energy then what would be scarce? Raw materials could come from astroids etc.

    The only remaining scarcity will be TIME. And that goes away when we have immortality. Then the danger will be boredom and then the artists who entertain and distract will suddenly become highly valued for their ability to hold the boredom at bay. maybe. :)

  41. As they say -What goes around comes around

  42. 12from1 says:

    I’m wondering where I fall in the scheme of things? I’m just a decade older than Emily, and have watched the whole music distribution models change before my eyes. I have not yet fully embraced buying music online, and have purchased over 95% of my music collection in physical form. I have problems seeing how the digital model actually gets “more” money back to the artists. If the artist doesn’t offer the files on their site for a value, then I’m not sure how much of my money is getting back to them when I use sites like iTunes and Amazon (among others).

    I also have problems with the overall value placed on songs these days. Everyone seems to think a song “costs” $.99. That seems bogus. I understand that for artists that are still under contract they have a lot of overhead to cover – but as an “artist” I don’t see how they can only value a piece of their work at $.99. I mean, there are songs I’ve listened to hundreds of times. I wouldn’t want to have to fork out a royalty every time I listened to them, but those songs are worth WAY more than $.99 to me.

    And then there’s the conundrum of how much SHOULD an artist get paid to make music. It was brought up about how maybe being a musician shouldn’t be something you do “professionally” anymore, and maybe that’s the answer. I’m hearing some of the best music ever at the top end of the spectrum (and paying for it), but there is a widening gap between who is really putting out the hits, and all the other music that is out there today. The lower costs of production lower the barrier for entry into the music world, but that also, in my opinion, has the effect of lowering the overall quality of what is out there.

    I’d like to see more artists put their music up on their websites and put a value on it. It can scale as they recoup their costs. Maybe a whole album starts out at $500 or something. As enough people buy it, the costs comes down, until maybe it’s $10. Anyone who buys it at $500 gets backstage passes or something when they tour, or a T-Shirt, or their name in the liner notes.

    I’d also like to see more artists cut out iTunes (while it isn’t inconvenient to use for paying for music, it is a bloated piece of software that I absolutely loathe anytime I am forced to use it) and Amazon – or at least delay their access to the song until a few months down the road. Or, sell them the access to release day privileges. The bottom line is, artists should start adapting to put a value on their product that allows them to continue to make it, and fans should pay the fair share of those costs. As with most things, it’s the ones who follow the rules who end up paying for privileges.

    With that – it’s also our duty to educate the younger (and older – it’s not just kids stealing music) generation about what’s right. It’s only a matter of time before one of our favorite bands hangs it up because they just can’t support their art anymore. We should also mention to the youngsters who feel they shouldn’t “have” to pay for music – the ones who were lucky enough to stumble into the world during this wonderful “free-for-all”. You don’t have to pay for music…that’s what the radio is for.

    As for your comments on three dimensional printing technologies, I do find it odd that you reference/hyperlink the Maker Bot, which has designs for building a unit that are in direct violation of current patents held by Stratasys corporation. That doesn’t negate your points you made with this, but I thought it was funny.

  43. Ishmael says:

    Jonathan and a lot of people here brought up some really interesting points. As a Software Developer (NOT about to get into music though!), I am faced with the difference between digitally transmitted “intellectual property” and physical objects. And the difference between doing work you’re paid to do (i.e. corporate software), and work you love to do (i.e. open source software, robotics, etc).

    The issue, though is more fundamental. We are all trying to understand this in the context of our western “capitalist” economy, which we’ve been brainwashed since birth into believing is the “one true way”.

    Trying to get past this ingrained thinking, I see a few things. Most musicians don’t make music for the money, but because they love music. Most really enjoy the emotional connection they make with their listeners. Some make music purely for themselves, but that’s a bit of a different issue. We don’t need to make incentives for it, like we do for creating software documentation.

    However, many musicians don’t make their music (and many more in the past) because they couldn’t break through the wall and get blessed by those who controlled the money and the system. The old system sucked donkey balls. The corrupt labels, the formula mass-market music, the forcing-to-buy-a-whole-CD-to-listen-to-one-good-song model was so terrible, I gave up on music until MP3s and the internet came along. I just didn’t listen to it, I didn’t buy ANY music. Now, I’m finding all kinds of great music, and unless they’re mega-millionaires already (yes, that matters to me), I make sure to buy (at least most) of the music I listen to because I’m selfish and it’s in my best interests for them to make more of it. :)

    The most interesting pause I’ve had is when one artist had a link to buy her song, and it asked me how much I want to pay, and there was no minimum. That was an interesting moment.

    What I think we really need to figure out then, is how to ensure artists (that have some decent level of fan support) can have at least a comfortable living doing what they love to do, and the resources they need to do it? That’s a different question than how can we monetize “intellectual property” and control the distribution.

    I don’t have a good answer, but it’s something we’ll have to figure out soon. Jonathan’s point about the 3D printing is a REALLY good one. Another factor in the larger picture is that people are slowly starting to realize that this consumerist consumption of crap that we’ve been pitched really kind of sucks, and doesn’t make us healthy of happy. When we stop buying all the junk, we’ll find that we actually need very little, and modern technology, manufacturing and the 3D printing tsunami will give us all the “things” we need at very little cost. What happens to the economy then? Without a driving need to “consume”, and the need for people to work at empty jobs for money, how do we allocate resources?

    For the music/art/design question, here’s a crazy thought – leaving aside the obvious Big Brother issues: if technology could provide a way to tell when someone listened to a digital recording, use government taxation to collect revenue (an amount determining democratically, not via lobbying) and distribute it based on the information gathered?

  44. Ishmael says:

    Also, it is NOT “stealing” music. Stealing is when you take something from someone else, and they can’t use it anymore.

    It is a copyright violation. Copyright violations are (most often) not good, but very different than stealing. Don’t use the word stealing, because then you’re doing exactly what the RIAA jackals want you to do.

  45. Masau says:

    I haven’t paid much attention to advances in music distribution, so perhaps I’m mistaken, but for the most part, I tend to agree with Emily that there really isn’t a viable “legal” alternative at this point. Spotify, last I checked, isn’t available in the US. Itunes severely limits the freedom you have to move the music you’ve payed for from one place to another in an attempt to prevent piracy. Pandora (and spotify and similar services) don’t have a lot of the artists that I listen to. Granted, I really don’t listen to music, but when I do, it’s rather niche music, even more obscure than your own (pandora also has some huge issues lumping comedy music and stand-up comedy in the same group, very annoying. But that’s supposedly gotten better).

    The same battle is happening right now in both the gaming industry and the motion picture industy. In some respects, the gaming industy has fared far better than either of the other two, but I’ll get to them later.

    The motion picture industy has been faces the same issue as the music industry has. The internet eliminates the monopoly they had on distribution. Sure, there were the occasional bootleg tapes back in the day, but the quality was poor usually (though, nowhere near as poor as cams are today *shudders*). Like the music industry, advances have finally been made to handle internet distribution, but again they fall short and result in me still prefering to simply download or stream content much of the time.

    I don’t watch movies too often, so I’ll focus on TV shows. First, you’ve got Netflix. I rather like the service. However, it’s got two major flaws – 1) it doesn’t contain some of the shows I love (i.e. House MD) at all due to being unable to make a deal with the netwoks that own them, and 2) they are always 1-2 seasons behind. Then you’ve got Hulu. This is a nice service if you don’t mind being a week behind. Again, it has two problems 1) lack of shows due to deals not being made, and 2) episodes are kept up for a fairly short period, so watching old episodes often isn’t an option (note: I haven’t looked at the premium subscription for a long time, so it may be better on both fronts). And of course, many networks either host their own shows, or use Hulu (or a similar service) to their shows on their sites. These are actually generally the best in my experience for new episodes, often having them posted within 24 hrs of air. But again, they only keep 3-4 episodes per show up at any time. And of course there is cable with on demand, recording of shows, ect. But as I’m at my computer 90% of the time…why would I want to deal with cable as well? I’d much rather get it at my PC than on my seldom used TV.

    All of these options are even worse when it comes to foriegn content that requires either dubbing or subbing. I personally watch quite a bit of anime. Unfortunately, it’s often months or years before an anime is picked up for subbing (if it ever is), and even longer for dubbing (luckily I can’t stand dubbed anime). Contrast this with fansubs. They are almost always as good, if not better, quality as the (eventually) officially released ones, but are out within days of a new episode rather than months or years. Again, there have been *some* advances here, i.e. crunchyroll. But these only sub a very select few anime that are either long running (naruto and bleach for instance), or get picked up early for subbing, and the subbing tends to be lesser quality than that of fansubbers.

    Finally we get to game distribution (I don’t play console, so I’ll ignore those and stick with purely PC). I think the game industry has a significant advantage over the other two. Unlike music or video, games typically require multiple computers working together. By forcing players to log into a central server, game companies (i.e. Blizzard) can combat piracy to an extent (though I still played starcraft 2’s campaign from a torrent when it came out). There are also a few platforms for distributing games, with steam being the largest and most well known. I don’t use it, but most games companies allow purchasing/downloading of games online either through steam, some other platform, or directly from their sites. In my opinion, game companies have done the best in terms of capitalising on onine distribution. But again, they have the advantage of being able to effectively force players to use centralized login servers in order to play multiplayer games.

    Oh, and I almost forgot. My own profession (and your old one): Software (specifically, not gaming software). As a heavy advocate for free and open source software, I tend to care little about piracy in my field, and in many cases encourage it to some extent (when I can’t convince people to move away from the a proprietary garbage). Proprietary Software however is in the same boat as the first two industries though. All it takes is a single programmer to modify part of most software products and it can often not only be used for free, but can also get updates by convincing the central server that it’s legit. Again, I heavily advocate for FOSS, so I really don’t give a shit at all about piracy in this field.

  46. Brandon says:

    It occurs to me that the concept of “free” music has been around a long time. The Golden Age of Radio started in 1920. AM radio broadcasts sent “free” music over the air waves, and even today I listen to “free” music in my car on the way to and from work. Classic rock fans may remember the King Biscuit Flour Hour. I always associate it with King Crimson, for some reason.

    Thing is, from the perspective of the listener, music on the radio is “Free”. It is ad-supported, and these days the performers aren’t paid, only the writer/composer. But for the listener, despite the lack of control over what song plays next and the necessity of either listening to all the ads or, more likely, switching to another station in search of more music, what you hear is effectively free. Sure, FM radio is lower quality than an MP3, but it has some innate analogue filtering that makes it sound just fine and less susceptible to listener fatigue than your average, medium-quality MP3 file.

    Services like Pandora and Spotify have legal agreements. They aren’t illegal OR unethical. They are just like radio in that sense. To the listener, they appear to be free. So before we talk in too much detail about the ethics of downloading MP3 files and not paying for them, we need to consider that the association between music and free has been around for almost 100 years now. Free doesn’t have to mean artists aren’t compensated, or at least that artists have no way to get paid, anyway. But music has had the stigma or free hanging over its head for a long time.

  47. Damien says:

    I like how you started the MegaUpload entry with “Uh oh, he’s blogging. What happened?” and started this with “Here’s what happened:”.

  48. Damion says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    As someone who’s worked in the 3D scanning (and tangentially, printing) industry for a while, I don’t share the view that 3D printing will have anything like impact on consumer goods that’s frequently bandied about. It makes for good science fiction, but the reality of 3D printing for the foreseeable future is nothing like that. Most low cost “consumer grade” printers print objects out of a spool of very thin thermoplastic; if you picture extruding play-doh into a thin coil and piling it up to build a sculpture you understand the basic mechanic. The resulting prints look about like you’d expect; the surface finish looks a bit like a layer cake, and since the object consists of fused thin strands of plastic it’s not especially sturdy.

    To be sure, you might argue that this is a technical limit on current technology, and it’s true that there are many other printing technologies out there that produce higher quality parts than fused deposition modeling (the extrusion approach). But also consider that the underlying business model of printer manufacturers, 3D or otherwise, is selling you the feedstock for the printer. Ink and paper aren’t free, and I can assure you that thermoplastic spools for 3D printers are decidedly non-free.

    So, to suggest that 3D printing poses a risk to conventional manufacturing processes ignores a couple of things. At present, both printers and feedstock are cost prohibitive for anything other than serious use. I freely concede that there is business model to be had selling the printers at low or no cost and the materials at a markup (as with laser and inkjet printers). In the latter case, the markup on what is essentially a free material – plastic – needs to be high enough to support the entire 3D printing industry. This is certainly possible, too.

    This then begs the question of what the printed part is competing against. Again, given that the commercially manufactured LEGO has (approximately) zero material cost, it’s difficult to imagine there being a financial argument for “pirating” the LEGO. And that’s assuming a printer capable of producing a replacement part of high enough quality that look and feel aren’t an issue.

    In any case, my point is this. There’s a cost associated with all known rapid prototyping technologies, and this cost is usually orders of magnitude higher than a (better) commercially produced part. This is, after all, why the industry is rapid *prototyping* – rapid manufacturing does exist, but involves a different set of technologies and is not something pitched for consumer use. I would propose that the problem facing the music industry, and digital goods in general, is one related to there being identically zero marginal cost for duplication. As a first approximation, 3D printing doesn’t offer this, in the same way that photocopiers weren’t a threat to the paperback novel.

  49. AnneTherese says:

    Good God, Coulton….give it a rest…!!!!