The Race For Fleeting Advantages Drives Progress In Magic

from the plenty-of-innovation dept

The paper we linked to on Tuesday about innovation in the magic industry has generated a lot of attention around the blogosphere. Magician Andrew Mayne thinks we've got it all wrong. He tells us that "creative people are constantly pulled from magic to places where intellectual property is better recognized," and that the magic industry would be more innovative if it were more like the music industry. Interestingly, after faulting the paper for lacking any economic research or input from magic creators, Mayne himself failed to offer any examples of individuals who have left the magic industry because of an inability to make a living. Nor does he cite any other magicians who share his view. Magic legend Jim Steinmeyer apparently thinks the current system would break down if the magic industry were as large as the music industry, but he doesn't dispute that it works pretty well at its present size.

Meanwhile, my friend Jacob Grier, who has worked as a freelance magician for several years, hails the paper for its thorough research and disagrees with Mayne's critique. As an example, he quotes a high profile dispute between prop makers over charges that one has been copying the other's designs. While the more established craftsman was annoyed that his designs were being copied without credit, he didn't feel the dispute was hurting his business much: "I think that the feud/competition has actually increased my business by a rather large margin. And the competition has certainly been a catalyst for me to improve my products." That echoes a point we've made repeatedly here on Techdirt: that a competitive marketplace leads to more innovation because it forces producers to constantly improve their products and stay ahead of the competition. That's true in the software industry, and it's just as true when you're talking about magic. Perhaps that's why, as Jacob puts it, "If anything, it's much more common to hear magicians complain about the tremendous glut of new products on the market rather than of a dearth of innovation."


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    Andrew Mayne, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:13pm

    Corrections

    "Mayne himself failed to offer any examples of individuals who have left the magic industry because of an inability to make a living."

    I wasn't asked. Email me and I will happily provide you with the names of several people you can contact.

    "Nor does he cite any other magicians who share his view. "

    Again, I wasn't asked. Almost all the magic creators I know share this view. Joshua Jay, editor of the Talk About Tricks for Magic Magazine said today at iTricks, "The notion that the magic community has self-policed its way into Oz (a land where nobody steals for fear of peer resentment) is presumptuous."

    "Magic legend Jim Steinmeyer...doesn't dispute that it works pretty well at its present size."

    Really? He told iTricks he found the paper's claims questionable and would most assuredly disagree that the system works "pretty well". He's been so mistreated by the magic community that he's loathe to even discuss the issue. That said, I will be happy to provide you his email address so you can seek clarification.

    I'm curious as to why the quote from a "high-profile" prop maker wasn't sourced. Contact any one of the top magic creator and they'll most likely echo my position.

    Personally, I've been very fortunate as a magic creator and have been able to adapt to the changing market. However, I can think of several magic creators much more clever than me when it comes to magic who haven't been as lucky.

     

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    Jacob Grier, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:41pm

    the source

    Andrew, I supplied the quote from the prop maker and I didn't link the source for the very simple reason that I didn't want to needlessly point non-magicians to a page discussing the manufacture of state of the art magic props. For the discussion at hand, there's no need for the particulars. Feel free to contact me privately if you're unsure of whom I'm referencing.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:41pm

    Whoops.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:47pm

    "Both the paper itself, as well as the blogs that linked to it compare magic to the fashion industry where knock-off products theoretically feed the desire of consumers for innovation."

    Knock off products feed the desire of consumers for innovation? A knockoff is a copy. How does copying something fuel innovation? What, better copies?

     

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      Paul, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:59pm

      Re:

      No. Knockoffs make the "best designs" available to the masses on the cheap. The elitists then demand new designs, aka innovations, so they don't have to be like the masses.

       

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    Andrew Mayne, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 6:55pm

    Double-standard

    Jacob Grier wrote: "For the discussion at hand, there's no need for the particulars."

    So why is your buddy Tim Lee harshing on me for not squeezing more references into my two sentence quote?

    I'm happy to discuss this thing at length with particulars and all the rest. I'm a big-time free-market, Friedman and Hayek worshipping guy who thinks that certain markets can thrive when they self-police. Magic just ain't one of them. It needs rule of law and property rights. The examples of why are legion.

     

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    Tim Lee, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 7:14pm

    Andrew, this is a blog post, not an in-depth journalistic report. I went by what was in the article, which was quotes from you and a quote from Steinmeyer. He said “If we even say that it is working, it’s because it’s such a small industry. No one is going to do a knock off Zig Zag at the Magic Castle. But that doesn’t apply to music industry because there is not just one Magic Castle.” Obviously that isn't an endorsement of the paper, but he seems to be implicitly conceding that magicians in the Magic Castle do feel some social pressures not to knock off each others' inventions.

    I don't doubt that the paper is controversial among magicians, and that some of them disagree with the paper. I contacted the one magician I know personally, and he found the paper convincing. Perhaps he's an outlier, and I'm sure you could point me to other magicians who support your view, but I have no way of knowing if they're representative.

    More to the point, the patent system is not supposed to be a jobs program for magicians. It's a way of promoting "the progress of science and the useful arts." If Jacob is right that there is a "tremendous glut of new products on the market," then further legal protections would be counterproductive regardless of how many magicians are or aren't able to make a living at it.

     

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    Andrew Mayne, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 9:23pm

    Not an in-depth journalistic report

    Tim wrote: "Andrew, this is a blog post, not an in-depth journalistic report."

    And my comment was a brief statement within a blog post and not a 36-page research paper.

    "More to the point, the patent system is not supposed to be a jobs program for magicians."

    Keep your commie non-sequiturs to yourself FDR.

    More to my point; the magic industry is not this wonderful self-policing utopia where ideas are handled with respect and creators fairly rewarded for their creations. (Which is what the research paper claimed.) Two of the biggest manufacturers in the retail side have built their business on stealing ideas from people who can't afford to hire lawyers to protect their IP.

    Attachment to the paper's argument without real research has the same kind of rationale as socialized health care proponents clinging to Canada and France as shining examples of ideal systems - despite the evidence and claims to the contrary by people in the system.

     

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      Mike (profile), Sep 14th, 2007 @ 12:21am

      Re: Not an in-depth journalistic report

      Tim: "More to the point, the patent system is not supposed to be a jobs program for magicians."

      Andrew: "Keep your commie non-sequiturs to yourself FDR."

      Me: Say, what? How is pointing out that magicians shouldn't be looking at IP as a jobs program either "commie" (!?!?) or even FDR. Tim's saying exactly the opposite: that those who are positioning IP-for-magicians as important to keep people in those jobs are saying that. In other words, its you who are taking what you (ridiculously, I might add) refer to as the commie/FDR position of supporting gov't protectionism for your profession.

      So far your only defense of why IP is needed in magic is that it helps keep people in the business. Tim pointed out that there's plenty of innovation in magic, so the official rationale for IP (which is to stimulate innovation) does not apply. The only leftover rationale is yours: that it's needed to stimulate jobs.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2007 @ 9:29pm

    matt wrote: "sounds like andrew needs to do the magic trick where he removes his head from the sand/other places :P"

    Let me know when you get done riding your unicorn in fantasy land so I can hear your thoughts on the issue wise guy.

    Unless you were referencing this: http://itricks.com/store/?p=44

    In that case, thanks for the plug!

     

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    Andrew Mayne, Sep 14th, 2007 @ 2:11am

    Who you calling a commie?

    Mike wrote: "How is pointing out that magicians shouldn't be looking at IP as a jobs program either "commie" (!?!?) or even FDR."

    My point was that his statement about a "jobs programs" was a non-sequitur to the claim that the magic industry was a paradise for IP. Accuse me of being a commie and I'll call you one back:)

    My meta-point was that trying to use magic as a positive example seemed counter to the fact that most people involved creatively in the field lament the fact that they don't get the same kind of IP protection as the music industry. How sad is it when people look at the music industry as a better model?

    I believe as did Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek that there is no pat free market answer to the issue of patents and copyright that blindly applies to all fields. Friedman saw the advantages of legal IP protection but also saw the disadvantages of it being too restrictive. Neither adopted the apparent position of Tim or the author of the paper that IP protection wasn't necessary for a market to function optimally. My position is that evidence from the magic industry supports Friedman's and Hayek's belief that each field needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Magic isn't software or pharma. It's not the beautiful example the anti-IP-rights fringe of the free market community wish that it was.

    Moving beyond my belief or your belief, the easiest way to resolve the issue is to ask the people referenced in the original paper (as positive proof) how they feel. The researcher never did this. Knowing their positions on the issue, I consider this a serious omission.

    "Tim pointed out that there's plenty of innovation in magic, so the official rationale for IP (which is to stimulate innovation) does not apply. "

    Tim's a very smart guy, but he only provided a secondhand quote from an unnamed source. I'm sure he'd tell you that's not enough to base an entire economic model on. He also cherry-picked a statement from Steinmeyer and ignored the fact that Steinmeyer found the whole premise of the paper dubious. Five out of the six magicians who have commented on the issue either here or at iTricks have disagreed with the findings of the paper. Those same five are also magic *creators* directly affected by IP concerns.

    I invite you to visit a magic discussion board where creators and consumers participate and bring this topic up. See what they say.

     

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    Jacob Grier, Sep 14th, 2007 @ 5:35am

    Nobody's a commie here

    Andrew,

    Meaning no disrespect, but it's not surprising that the people who make or try to make a living selling their magic creations are the most sensitive to IP violations, just as it's not surprising that the record labels are the strongest supporters of the current regime in music. The relevant question is whether or not they release their innovative ideas in spite of the lack of IP law.

    For example, one of the magicians you cite on iTricks as casting doubt on the paper is Joshua Jay. This summer Jay released a 3 DVD set featuring the magic of over 30 different magicians -- these culled from the many more who have submitted items to his Talk About Tricks column over the past few years. Within the same month his book detailing the effects of working professional Joel Givens was also published. Prior to that he wrote a similar book for Troy Hooser. I have a hard time reconciling his skepticism of Loshin's paper with the success he's had getting other creators to publish their material.

    Perhaps the paper whitewashes the industry a bit considering the success of some knockoff companies and I certainly sympathize with the people you know who've been cheated (and lament the ones who have chosen to no longer create because of it). But looking at the flow of ideas in the deluge of products that are released every year, the trick columns in the major magazines, the conventions, the informal sessions, the local meetings, and the lecture circuits, I have a hard time looking at the magic community and seeing a badly broken system.

     

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    RandomThoughts, Sep 14th, 2007 @ 8:08am

    From an outsiders view (I never really knew there were so many people interested in magic) maybe being free of copyright issues works for them (which may or may not be true.) The bigger issue is others pointing to this and saying "see, it really works" when talking about other industries."

     

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    Andrew Mayne, Sep 14th, 2007 @ 11:58am

    The problem with analogies

    "Meaning no disrespect, but it's not surprising that the people who make or try to make a living selling their magic creations are the most sensitive to IP violations, just as it's not surprising that the record labels are the strongest supporters of the current regime in music. "

    The first problem with your analogy is that you're not differentiating between record labels and recording artists (or song writers). Both Joshua Jay and myself are looking at other creators as examples and not our own experiences. He and I are very, very fortunate. Joshua, like me, would probably agree that there are much cleverer guys out there who can't make a living at creating because they don't grasp the market like we do. We both have platforms that other creators don't have.

    Second, Joshua, myself and all of the creators who have commented are arguing that the perception of the magic community in the paper is inconsistent with how people in the magic industry feel. The paper omits any direct data from the community. More importantly, the paper avoids dealing with the biggest controversies in magic that have the largest impact. It's like writing a paper on IP in the music industry without mentioning the RIAA or P2P.

    Two of the biggest companies in magic openly steal the creative works of others. Song writers and musicians at least have the option to sign away their soul first.

    "The relevant question is whether or not they release their innovative ideas in spite of the lack of IP law."

    This is a non-starter. No rationale person would argue that Cuba and China are ideal models for free speech because people living there still get to express some of their opinions.

    The relevant question is whether or not magic is the idealized market the paper portrays it it be. The majority opinion within the magic community is that the music industry is a better model (right or wrong).

    As far as the quality of ideas brought to market goes; because piracy effects the ability to recoup development costs there's a definite impact. A little digging shows that a number of creators have gone on the record stating that they've deigned not to release new items because piracy impacts their ability to recoup costs. Anders Moden (inventor of one of the most popular tricks of the last decade) is one example. There are plenty more.

    Incidentally, the need to recoup development costs was one of the reasons Milton Friedman supported the idea of patents and IP protection. He questioned the existing system but not the basic need for IP protection.

     

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    Jacob Grier, Sep 14th, 2007 @ 5:37pm

    Nobody's a commie here

    Andrew,

    Meaning no disrespect, but it's not surprising that the people who make or try to make a living selling their magic creations are the most sensitive to IP violations, just as it's not surprising that the record labels are the strongest supporters of the current regime in music. The relevant question is whether or not they release their innovative ideas in spite of the lack of IP law.

    For example, one of the magicians you cite on iTricks as casting doubt on the paper is Joshua Jay. This summer Jay released a 3 DVD set featuring the magic of over 30 different magicians -- these culled from the many more who have submitted items to his Talk About Tricks column over the past few years. Within the same month his book detailing the effects of working professional Joel Givens was also published. Prior to that he wrote a similar book for Troy Hooser. I have a hard time reconciling his skepticism of Loshin's paper with the success he's had getting other creators to publish their material.

    Perhaps the paper whitewashes the industry a bit considering the success of some knockoff companies and I certainly sympathize with the people you know who've been cheated (and lament the ones who have chosen to no longer create because of it). But looking at the flow of ideas in the deluge of products that are released every year, the trick columns in the major magazines, the conventions, the informal sessions, the local meetings, and the lecture circuits, I have a hard time looking at the magic community and seeing a badly broken system.

     

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