Getting It: In A World Of Digital Abundance, Sell The Scarcities

from the dickens-of-a-good-idea dept

A recurrent refrain from the copyright industries is that you can't make money from digital goods if they are freely available online. To which Techdirt has been pointing out for years that not only are there many ways of doing precisely that, but lots of people are already coining it as a result. One of the Guardian's columnists has noticed one of them - that in a world of digital abundance, you can make money by selling associated scarcities:

Earnings from recordings have been plummeting for a decade, while from live they are rising ever faster. Warner Brothers release albums free online to publicise forthcoming concerts. In Britain HMV is closing 40 shops while tickets for a Rihanna concert can cost 330 [$500], and for Coldplay 180 [$280]. A seat for Madonna is more expensive than her entire recorded output. A top American performer would reckon to earn between 80% and 90% of revenue from live performance. In the US alone, touring revenue that grossed $1bn in 1995 rose to $4.6bn last year.
The article then goes on to list other manifestations of this trend, such as Tony Blair's $160,000 fee for a speech "in the flesh"; a doubling of attendances at museums and galleries; 90% audience levels at the UK's National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company; and the fact that even "humble" authors find "appearances at literary festivals (those that pay) can compensate for dwindling book advances and, in the case of poets, eroding copyrights."

But one of the most telling examples is the following:

Performers such as Stephen Fry have taken to reading their books in public, Dickens-style
Dickens undertook his American reading tours in part because piracy of his works was rampant there, so he made little money directly from the many published copies. But amidst this unwelcome abundance, he was still able to sell the ultimate scarcity his presence to earn handsomely from the reputation his pirated works created.

The same is true for countless other writers, musicians and artists before Dickens, who lived when there was little or no copyright, and whose works could thus be copied freely. In other words, people have been using abundance to sell scarcity not just for years, but for centuries. Maybe it's time today's copyright industries got the message.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: abundance, business models, economics, scarcity


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  1. identicon
    Ed C., 7 Dec 2011 @ 12:07pm

    Re:

    Even in an open market, stores still can provide worthwhile services. They have the infrastructure to readily distribute products, the name recognition to draw customers, and a sense of security in transactions. Your friends are certainly free to go at it alone, but the choice often will be between a big cut of small profits or a small cut of bigger profits. There's still a chance of hitting it big without signing with anyone, but there's obviously the possibility of striking out even if they do. It's not a choice to be taken lightly. Either way though, they're still going to have to do a lot of self-promotion.

    You're also right in that much of the internet-publishing is concentrated in a few stores like Apple and Amazon. This is largely because the legacy publishers didn't understand how to deal with digital formats that allowed others to make copies just as easily as them, and the legacy retailers threatened to boycott publishers that competed with them online. In the end, both got bypassed web companies, which are both publisher and seller. That creates a lot of power that neither had before.

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