An Economic Explanation For Why DRM Cannot Open Up New Business Model Opportunities

from the shrinking,-not-expanding,-the-pie dept

Continuing my increasingly lengthy series of posts on the economics of non-scarce goods, I wanted to take a look at an issue that I mentioned in passing earlier this week concerning the ongoing insistence among the entertainment industry (and the DRM industry) that DRM somehow will open up new business models. I'd like to explain why, economically, that doesn't make sense.

First, to clarify, I should point out that, technically, I mean that it doesn't make sense that DRM could ever open up feasible or successful business models. Anyone can create a new unsuccessful business model. For example, I'm now selling $1 bills for $1,000. It's a new business model (well, perhaps not to the dot coms of the original dot com boom), but it's unlikely to be a successful one (if you disagree, and would like to pay me $1,000 for $1, please use the feedback form above to make arrangements). However, for a new business model to make sense, it needs to provide more value. Providing more value than people can get elsewhere is the reason why a business model succeeds. So, any new business model must be based on adding additional value.

The good news is that value is not a scarce concept. Unfortunately, there are too many in this world who view value and growth as a zero-sum game. They believe that there's some fundamental limit on the possibility of adding value, and therefore, business models are about moving around a limited amount of value, rather than expanding it. It's the same fallacy facing those who have trouble understanding zero and infinity in economics. The economist Paul Romer's discussion on Economic Growth offers a concise explanation for this:
Economic growth occurs whenever people take resources and rearrange them in ways that are more valuable. A useful metaphor for production in an economy comes from the kitchen. To create valuable final products, we mix inexpensive ingredients together according to a recipe. The cooking one can do is limited by the supply of ingredients, and most cooking in the economy produces undesirable side effects. If economic growth could be achieved only by doing more and more of the same kind of cooking, we would eventually run out of raw materials and suffer from unacceptable levels of pollution and nuisance. Human history teaches us, however, that economic growth springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking. New recipes generally produce fewer unpleasant side effects and generate more economic value per unit of raw material.

Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new recipes or ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new recipes and ideas. We consistently fail to grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered. The difficulty is the same one we have with compounding. Possibilities do not add up. They multiply.
Note that it's the non-scarce products, the recipes and the ideas, that helps expand the value of the limited resources, the ingredients. You expand value by creating new non-scarce goods that make scarce goods more valuable -- and you can keep on doing so, indefinitely. Successful new business models are about creating those non-scarce goods and helping them increase value. Any new business model must be based around increasing the overall pie. It's about recognizing that creating value isn't about shifting around pieces of a limited economic pie -- but making the overall pie bigger.

DRM is fundamentally opposed to this concept. It is not increasing value for the consumer in any way, but about limiting it. It takes the non-scarce goods, the very thing that helps increase value, and constrains them. Those non-scarce goods are what increase the pie and open up new opportunities for those who know where to capture the monetary rewards of that value (within other limited resources). DRM, on the other hand, holds back that value and prevents it from being realized. It shrinks the pie -- and no successful business models come out of providing less value and shrinking the overall pie. Fundamentally, DRM cannot create a successful new business model. It can only contain one.

If you're looking to catch up on the posts in the series, I've listed them out below:

Economics Of Abundance Getting Some Well Deserved Attention
The Importance Of Zero In Destroying The Scarcity Myth Of Economics
The Economics Of Abundance Is Not A Moral Issue
A Lack Of Scarcity Has (Almost) Nothing To Do With Piracy
A Lack Of Scarcity Feeds The Long Tail By Increasing The Pie
Why The Lack Of Scarcity In Economics Is Getting More Important Now
History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers
Infinity Is Your Friend In Economics
Step One To Embracing A Lack Of Scarcity: Recognize What Market You're Really In
Why I Hope The RIAA Succeeds
Saying You Can't Compete With Free Is Saying You Can't Compete Period
Perhaps It's Not The Entertainment Industry's Business Model That's Outdated

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  1. identicon
    Nate, 1 Mar 2007 @ 5:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not so fast

    That's exactly what he's saying. If there were no government-sponsored legal system to prevent you from copying a BMW, anyone who had the necessary funds could make a copy of a BMW. The value in a BMW comes from the value added by BMW.

    Name Brand.
    Expensive styling options.
    Integrated Bluetooth.
    BMW is constantly innovating to create cars that people will pay exorbitant sums for.

    You are not buying a BMW, you are buying the image of someone with a BMW.


    You focus is still too narrow, for the artists the values are the same under either business model. Initially I agreed with your proposal for an expiring DRM to "test-drive" songs, until being reminded that the competition is free. Storage costs are negligible as well. The money, for the RIAA is where it's always been: touring & selling merchandise.


    people don't go to concerts specifically for the music, they go for the experience. some of them will inevitably buy merchandise to commemorate the occasion. Companies who jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of digital delivery are going to eventually reap massive amounts of money selling anything they can think of that is a "one-off".

    if you weren't here. you weren't living

    As a matter of fact, if anyone's got the advantages necessary to get started, it's them! They can start investigating the millions of bands cluttering MySpace and getting demos. just cleaning up the sound on some of these guys would probably get them started towards making some money.

    find the really good ones! get them out there! digital advertising!

    NOW PLAYING IN YOUR LOCAL BAR:

    Artists are going to have to give up on their dreams of becoming huge mega-stars and accept that if they're truly artists they have to work for a living. work is difficult, exhausting, and after 30 years of it you get to retire. what kind of artists can innovate for 30 years?

    innovative ones.
    ones who are constantly looking around, evaluating what they bring to the world...and increasing their value.



    the money's out there boys, you're just not in the industry you thought you were.

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