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, and on Google+

Filed Under: abundance, business models, economics, scarcity

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  1. identicon
    MrWilson, 7 Dec 2011 @ 8:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Tell me again, why are we let a dying industry ruin the internet?

    "Piracy is not protected free speach."

    But only a court of law can determine what is piracy, so the private right to action to block payment processing to a site based on an accusation from a rightsholder who may be mistaken or lazy or malicious violates due process. YouTube is "dedicated to the theft of American IP" according to Viacom's definition of piracy. There's a lot more free speech on YouTube than the videos that Viacom itself uploaded to YouTube. How would SOPA differentiate in this case? Oh, yeah - it wouldn't.

    "Sites that rely on user submitted content are almost always user-policed anyway. YouTube will take down content that is reported as offensive, they can add a report button to the page to alert staff of a copyright violation as well. They could make reporting infringing content part of the user agreement."

    This isn't in the bill, so its irrelevant to discuss something that YouTube wouldn't implement, but... If rightsholders can't even reliably determine if something is infringing, how do you expect regular users to? And why would it be in the interests of users to do so? Are you familiar with the trollishness of many YouTube commenters? What happens when those same trolls flood YouTube's content reviewers with false positives because they think the content is stupid rather than infringing.

    "There are things that are wrong wtih SOPA/PIPA but the fear mongering needs to stop."

    That SOPA/PIPA are being proposed at all is the biggest problem with the bills. The DMCA is already too restrictive of user rights, such as the inability to legally break DRM for backup or format-shifting purposes.

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