Embracing New Opportunities Is Being Defeatist?
from the please-explain dept
A few months back a columnist for the Guardian, Helienne Lindvall wrote a laughably confused argument claiming that people who explained how “free” was an important element of a business model should not be trusted because they also made money. That made no sense, and lots of people explained why. She also got an awful lot of the basic facts wrong.
Lindvall is back, and rather than admitting her mistakes, she tries again, but comes across as even more confused and factually-challenged. The majority of the piece is about setting up more strawmen to knock over, with the two key ones being (1) that supporters of embracing new business models are “defeatist” because they suggest that file sharing cannot be stopped and (2) that while record labels may have ripped off musicians in the past, the companies ripping off musicians today are the “web 2.0” companies that are making money on content — such as Google, Flickr and others.
Neither argument makes much sense when held up to any scrutiny. Lindvall seems to make the same mistake she made in her first piece (for which, I do not believe she has yet apologized). She takes a tiny part of an argument that someone has made, and pretends it’s the entire argument. Just like she claimed that those who embrace free as a part of their business model are somehow being hypocritical in making money elsewhere, she now claims that people’s entire argument is based on a tiny sliver of their argument, and ignores the important part.
The problem with her first strawman is that people aren’t saying be “defeatist,” and just accept that file sharing is file sharing and give up. They’re saying that if file sharing isn’t going away, and (here’s the part she misses) you can use that to your advantage to make more money, why bother worrying about file sharing as being some sort of evil? The second strawman is a bit more nefarious, but goes back to the fallacy that web 2.0 sites are some sort of digital sharecropping, with the users “giving up everything,” and the content creators getting nothing. That, of course, is hogwash. The reason people use these services is that they get something in return. What people like Lindvall forget or ignore is that in the days before YouTube, if you wanted to post your own video, you had to (a) buy expensive media serving software from the likes of Real Networks (b) install the crappy software and maintain it (c) host the files yourself, costing you server space (d) stream or download the files yourself, costing bandwidth. Then YouTube came along and made all of that both easy and free — and you still want to complain that they’re ripping you off? Seriously?
Fine: let’s make a deal. For any project that Helienne Lindvall is involved in, she cannot make use of these tools which offer free services. Instead, she must set up the technology on her own server, and host and pay for all of it herself. Otherwise, she’s just supporting the digital sharecroppers, right?
There are a few other whoppers in the article as well, such as this one:
Doctorow pointed out that numerous authors give away their work, while earning good money on the lecture circuit. I don’t doubt that this model works for some authors, but there are fundamental differences between books and music.
Producing a record — as opposed to writing most books — tends to be a team effort involving a producer (sometimes several of them) and songwriters who are not part of the act, studio engineers and a whole host of people who don’t earn money from merchandise and touring — people who no one would pay to make personal appearances.
I love the “but we’re different!” argument, because it comes up in every industry. I was just in Hollywood, where I explained how musicians were actually making use of these models and someone got upset and said “but we’re the movie industry, and we’re different!” Earlier this year, I met with a publisher, who also was looking at these models, and again exclaimed that “but book publishing is different!” Everyone wants to believe they’re different, but everyone faces the same basic economics. Also, I’d imagine that my friends in the publishing industry would be pretty upset with Lindvall’s false claim that a book is not a team effort. You have publishers and editors and agents, all of whom often take on quite similar roles to producers and songwriters and engineers.
That said, the really ridiculous part of her complaint here is that the same people she complains don’t earn money from merchandise or touring also don’t earn money from record sale royalties for the most part. There are some exceptions, but most of them are paid a flat-fee for their work, and that doesn’t change either way under the new models, so her complaint here doesn’t make sense. If a content creator can make money giving away some works for free, they can still afford to pay the fees for those who help out. The entire argument that an engineer “doesn’t tour” is specious. The engineer doesn’t make money from CD sales either.
Finally. Lindvall must be the first person to describe Jaron Lanier as an optimist, since he came out with his incredibly pessimistic book about how the internet was destroying everything good and holy in the world.