Nothing Scales Like Stupidity

from the but...-but...-outliers! dept

An argument we frequently hear in the comments is how whatever’s working for sucessful artist A won’t work for artists B-Z. Whether it’s Jonathan Coulton giving away his music while still making $500,000/year, Joe Konrath bypassing major publishers on his way to megabucks in self-publishing or a game developer using the Pirate Bay as a distribution system, we hear the same thing: this is all well and good for whoever’s being discussed, but it’s no good for anyone else. John D. Cook at The Endeavour boils down the argument thusly:

Yes, that would be the smart thing to do, but it won’t scale. The stupid approach is better because it scales.

And that’s it, in essence. Despite the fact that creative artists have to compete with free in this day and age, many people, even some in the creative community, still believe that this is optional. So, they lash out against any artist who has chosen to attack the perceived “piracy problem” by performing such aberrational acts as “connecting with their fans” and giving them a “reason to buy.” Strange how that works.

But the arguments are always there. “This only works for X.” “This artist is too small/unknown/niche/etc.” If they’re not running through the normal gatekeepers, it’s made to seem as though every success story is yet another single example whipped up in a vacuum. Maybe the problem isn’t the business plan that works, it’s the outdated thinking that says that if it doesn’t scale, it’s not worth examining. Cook responds:

If the smart thing to do doesn’t scale, maybe we shouldn’t scale.

One size will never fit all. Get over it. Look at what works and adjust per individual situation rather than looking for the simple “Plan A” that’s supposedly a be-all and end-all for every creative artist. That doesn’t exist any more.

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Comments on “Nothing Scales Like Stupidity”

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Pjerky (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

I can totally understand the thought process here by those that lash out about it. The problem is multi-faceted. First of all many can, understandably, believe that if you don’t already have the fan-base then how can you connect to them? I find myself struggling with that little conundrum myself. That said, these actions also help build a fan-base too.

Most people struggle to grasp new concepts and will reel at the most radical ones because it flies in the face of everything they believe. Hundreds of years ago people laughed at, mocked, and otherwise ridiculed a man by the name of Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round, not flat.

Even after he proved otherwise there were still many non-believers. It took a long time for society as a whole to accept such a thing. And much of that acceptance simply came from the older generations, that we already closed-minded and stuck in their ways, dying off to be replaced by younger, more open-minded people.

Those people grew older and became stuck in their ways as well. But they had already accepted this truth. They just didn’t accept any newer ones. Unfortunately I think that is what this will take. The slow death of the members of the older regime. Politicians, lawyers, and executives are all old enough to be stuck in their ways and unable or unwilling to accept such drastic changes.

For this reason, I firmly believe that our own mortality has played a big hand in our ability to learn and adapt as a species. Otherwise we would have gone extinct a long time ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s fine if things don’t scale, but here is the kicker:

Don’t rip down what did scale just to make your non-scaling idea look better.

If you have truly better ideas, let them loose on the marketplace and they will dominate because they are the best. Good ideas (regardless of smart or stupid) will scale to the marketplace because they are good ideas.

It’s why it’s key to remember that for all of the arm waving and cherry picking of facts, the “new business models” still aren’t doing it for most people. Scaling isn’t the issue – actually being good ideas is.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

You have 100 year old business process based on the assembly line. They want a cookie cutter approach. Any approach developed, from now forward, needs to work in a connected world, where people want to have feedback. The content industry has never treated either their clients or their artists well. It is not something they will be able to learn. This is going to be something that affects many companies over the next few years.

Anonymous Coward says:


The new business model performs at the moment just like the older one. 99% failure rates, but when it happens it is big, million dollars big, how do you think the old model got money, they nickel and dimed everyone, now the stupid in charge believe they don’t need to cater to lower income brackets and can withhold things and leave millions without access to something, well, that is not going to happen ever, people will first try the easier way and that is illegal and then they will create alternatives and most importantly an ethos about what arts mean and how it should be distributed and those that don’t fallow will be shunned by society.

You idiots will be left with nothing, nobody wants to grant you a monopoly anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:


I’d go even further and say that they are using legislation to make sure there is no real marketplace, but a de-facto monopoly run by the few current big players, who get to decide everything; from who is allowed to publish to who is allowed to access the media where and when (and of course, who is allowed to profit from all of that). Yes i said players so technically it’s an oligopoly, not a monopoly, but as a group they certainly seem to be behaving like the latter.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:


Actually being good ideas has always been the problem, scaling or not. New or old business models make no difference.

In the arts one has to work to gain “fans”, in music to gig, in written form to write whatever, short stories, poetry and keep writing.

In video or film it’s made some, listen to criticism, take to heart what’s valid and improve. It makes no difference whether or not it’s old or new business models.

Inevitably it becomes a relationship between the artist and “fans” whoever and where ever they’re found and whatever they call themselves.

The Internet and, most particularly,the Web ease the introduction to “fans” and communications and conversation with them easier for most. It requires little in the way of techie knowledge to open a WordPress or other blogging account and just START. Let your friends know you’re there and keep it up. Don’t let it go. After a while it becomes second nature to spend 10 or 5 minutes a day at it. Not posting drivel but answering questions and taking part in the conversation.

Artists have to do this anyway. Long before they’re signed to a label, who can, basically, make them indentured servants for the rest of their careers and often do. There’s nothing new in this except how it’s done and the reach it has.

And if there’s anything the doesn’t scale as well as the Internet does I haven’t heard of it or met it yet.

Hephaestus (profile) says:


“Don’t rip down what did scale just to make your non-scaling idea look better.”

There is no need to rip anything down. The market, corporate reputation, and communications will rip down the content industry all by itself.

The market in that people will begin seeing that they can make more money just by finding a following on Facebook and Google+ than they can doing a label deal.

Corporate reputation in that there isn’t a single music blog I go to that doesn’t have one comment in each tread that contains “F*ck RIAA and the MPAA” or “They are thieves”. Once you lose trust its pretty much gone.

Communications in that people are talking about how bad the labels are all over the place. No amount of press releases, blog posts people can’t comment on, or advertising will change that.

Much like the SOPA and PIPA uproar this hated will eventually reach a threshold and a cause a backlash against the labels.

“Good ideas … will scale to the marketplace because they are good ideas.”

Personal contact and interaction do not scale well and they are good ideas.

Machin Shin (profile) says:


“the “new business models” still aren’t doing it for most people”

You know I have discovered the strangest thing ever. If I never try something then it never works for me.

I just don’t understand it. People keep telling me that if I practice Violin that I would be able to play wonderfully. Yet after all these years sitting on my ass not touching a violin I still can’t play. This whole “practice” thing is totally not working for me!

Modplan (profile) says:

I can tell the word scale will no longer sound like a real word after this. Scale scale scale scale scale.

Though I find the idea of any success involving the internet not being scalable ludicrous. How much easier is it for any band and their dog to reach an audience now compared to the MTV days? How is the relative ease to reach out to people now somehow less workable for most artists than TV music channels that only play label backed music and require you to acquire rights for things like covers to be able to broadcast?

Ninja (profile) says:


Because iTunes encompasses all online music creation and distribution, obviously.

The idea of a scalable business came from a while back. Large scale production, small costs. It doesn’t work for the digital world and even in the real world it’s limited because ppl ARE different. Scaling everything means you always partially satisfy the majority and that’s the beauty of these new models where they don’t care about the scale or mind boggling profits.

Amazon may be the choice for most books but it doesn’t have all and it doesn’t satisfy all authors that are willing to publish something. They scale and make money to Amazon stakeholders. Do they scale and make money for smaller authors that couldn’t care less about Amazon profits? And what about itunes?????

Snow says:

you're missing the point re scaling

Scaling is a concern for a simple reason: manhours. No big companies have enough marketing people on staff to individually market each product, thus companies look for products they can sell the same way all at the same time to a lot of people. For instance, I just got out of an editorial meeting where I was told I could develop a book if I and/or the author could first find 50 specialty stores where we could likely sell it, given that the chains might not take too many and that we’ve had success with books on its topic before because the authors were able to get it into those shops (although they were published so many years ago that they don’t make for good sales models, given the earthquaking nature of publishing now). Then we could see if this worked for sales. OK, fine. But the larger message was this: Why bother? Is this book big enough to be given artisanal marketing? Note, I’m an editor. Marketing doesn’t have time because of how many other books they have to handle.

And the fact is, I might not do it. Before I do anything I’m going to rough out a possible advance and ask the author’s agent if we’re in the ballpark. If not, I’m out. If so, I’ll see how big the job might be.

Lost in all this: the book will be AMAZING. And if the author could be assured of a slot on the Today show we wouldn’t have had a discussion beyond that.

That’s why Jonathan Karp’s imprint 12 was so brilliant: ideally, they did one great book a month and poured all their marketing energies into it–and everyone there was a marketer, whatever their title. Yes, marketing would extend beyond a month, and they didn’t always do just one, but you get the idea. Now that he’s remaking S&S, it’ll be interesting to see how this approach scales up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Its not stupidity

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I think the people in the music business, (apart from the actual musicians, etc), have realized, as I have, that there is absolutely *no* other, “better” business model which will save their jobs. Just like the people who used to cut and deliver blocks of ice, until cheap fridges arrived, they know their whole business is about to disappear.

They’re not really stupid. They’re just desperate. And they’re not going to go down without a fight. Expect them to say anything, do every thing they can think of, to try to freeze the current business model in-place, because they know the alternative is oblivion.

Michael Long (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

“The content industry…”

Painting with a rather broad brush, are we not? The content industry? The ENTIRE content industry? There’s no label, studio, or publisher that treats its artists and authors well? Or its customers? At all?


How about, oh, say, Baen books, who has plenty of authors who can’t say enough good things about them. Who sells DRM-free ebooks? Who gives away ebooks to their customers in their “free” library?

Guess they never learned…

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


Yup, let me call Apple and tell them to shut off Itunes, and let Amazon know to stop selling music and movies because clearly the business models don’t scale to the internet.

It’s worth pointing out that neither Apple or Amazon are really making that much from their music sales. Both serve to get people to buy other, more high margin stuff.

But you knew that.

Pjerky (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

@:Lobo Santo – I didn’t say that Columbus was the first to postulate it. I was saying that he was the first to physically prove it. Or at least prove that he wouldn’t sail off the edge of the world. Since he didn’t actually land in india (he wasn’t even halfway there by that route).

But what he did was enough proof and confidence for many many more people to believe the round world theory. Well, that and their greed at seeking out new lands and riches.

Michael Long (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

And I say again my last. There’s no record label that treats its artists fairly? None?

If you had qualified your statement and said something like, “Historically, most of the content industry haven’t treated…”

We’d be all well and good. My point is that some publishers and studios and labels do get the message, and some are moving forward.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


Yup, let me call Apple and tell them to shut off Itunes, and let Amazon know to stop selling music and movies because clearly the business models don’t scale to the internet.

No, see, those are new and quite different models and they were created by others for the entertainment industry, which was failing to scale its existing model and refusing to adapt itself.

If you actually think iTunes and Amazon use the same business model as record labels and movie studios, that explains why you have so much trouble keeping up with these discussions.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

I can understand the thought process here

You really are nit picking today aren’t you.

From now on what should I refer to them as? “The former big four, now big three record labels, members of the Recording Industry of America and several other trade organizations” instead of the record labels, and “the current movie studios, selling content to the cable stations, selling DVD’s and BluRays of movies and members of the Motion Picture Association of America and other international movie and content associations”

I think that is a mouthful, I will stick with the Labels and Studios.

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