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The Adams Theory of Content Value: As our ability to search for media content improves, the economic value of that content will approach zero.

I heard someplace, albeit unreliably, that 90% of all music that people own for personal use is stolen. Let's agree that the real figure is some large number, if not 90%. And you can already obtain every top-selling book, TV show, and movie on the Internet for free, assuming you don't mind mixing your shopping with your copyright crime sprees. Newspapers, magazines, and comics such as Dilbert have been freely available on the Internet for years.

At the moment, plenty of people still pay for media content. Those reasons will evaporate. Let's consider books. Most people still prefer old-timey tree-based books, but the Kindle and other ebook readers are eating into that preference quickly. I haven't yet heard of anyone buying a Kindle and later returning to a preference for regular paper books. It appears to be a one way ride. The Kindle, and similar devices, are designed for buying legal copies of books, which is a doomed attempt to forestall the inevitability of all media content becoming free.

Now comes the iPad, which is destined to become primarily a criminal tool, and it will cause a change in society the same way that widespread illegal boozing caused a change in Prohibition laws. I'm not saying the changes will be bad, just inevitable.

The iPad has a browsing capability that allows you to see any content on the Internet, legal or not, and consume it from just about anywhere. Once you have an iPad, the only reasons to ever buy physical books, magazines, or newspapers will be:
  1. You might want to read outdoors, where the iPad isn't so good.
  2. You don't want to break the law.
  3. It's still a little bit hard to search for illegal content.
  4. Kindle is cheaper than an iPad.
My guess is that the iPad will someday be easy to read in bright light, perhaps working in concert with your sunglasses of the future. And when Kindle owners begin to factor in the unnecessary cost of books, they will start to see the iPad as a bargain.

Then there's the issue of not wanting to break the law. Every kid understands that stealing is wrong. But ask the average ten-year old about copyright law and watch for the blank stare. Students are taught to freely download copyrighted content from the Internet for school reports, which I understand is legal in the context of education. And at the same time, every school kid is learning from friends that downloading music and movies from the Internet is common practice. Paying for content on the Internet is strictly a generational thing, and it will pass.

Those of you reading this blog are already savvy enough to find and download any content you want for free. But I'll bet the average 40-something user of the Internet still wouldn't know how to search the Internet for criminally free content. At some point, I assume, a Google search for any popular book title will return an illegal source at the top of the page. When that happens, Amazon.com will primarily be selling electronics, household products, and clothes.

I predict that the profession known as "author" will be retired to history in my lifetime, like blacksmith and cowboy. In the future, everyone will be a writer, and some will be better and more prolific than others. But no one will pay to read what anyone else creates. People might someday write entire books - and good ones - for the benefit of their own publicity, such as to promote themselves as consultants, lecturers, or the like. But no one born today is the next multi-best-selling author. That job won't exist.

As an author, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the media content of the future will suck because there will be no true professionals producing it. But I think suckiness is solved by better search capabilities. Somewhere out in the big old world are artists who are more talented than we can imagine, and willing to create content for free, for a variety of reasons. And so, as our ability to search for media content improves, the economic value of that content will approach zero.



 

 

 
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Jun 22, 2010
Whoops, make that "Assuming I am the type.."

Editing overkill, I tell you.
 
 
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Jun 22, 2010
Great post, as usual.. You forgot one small fact though - I could also buy a physical magazine to swat flies with, hit someone on their head with, or to fan myself when there's a power cut. Assuming I'm not the type who'd prefer not to do that with their iPad/Kindle.

Think Third World, Scott. :)
 
 
Jun 20, 2010
Your theory bets on search getting better, which is smart. But search is only a special case of the more general trend: computers will, more and more, be used to do things that were not worth doing before because we had to do them by hand. Today it's about finding content that some random person illegally published. But tomorrow it could easily be the mass and automated prosecution of everyone who breaks copyright law online. The internet is not really as anonymous as people think, so catching illegal content providers will eventually become a long tail business. Current impediments include the lack of international agreement on copyright, and also the general computer-stupidity of the copyright holders. (No offense. :)
 
 
Jun 10, 2010
Hi, I am apart of the generation you seem to believe is going to allow content to essentially become free. I am the hacker generation. This generation is not as you claim it to be. Where we only want free content. Yes your are inexplicably correct in your thoughts that we download, a LOT of content. Some we have not personally paid for, lots that we do pay for.

Let me explain why every pirate, hacker, cracker, illegal downloader pays for content sir. Because we all want to see those companies Continue to make high quality content, and we know that unless we shell out the spare change that is needed to do so, that it isn't going to happen.

It is basic math. Every single file I have ever seen downloaded for free, has a tag "If you liked it, buy it". It is a motto, it is a creed, it is words to live by. Simply put, the writers will still have their jobs, for the same reason the job existed in the first place. Because there are people who are willing to buy the writers work. The actors will still have their jobs, because people genuinely like what was produced.

More often than not pirates that like software, movies, games, books, and other media shell out the money for content that they find to be prevalent to their life, and to be something that they personally enjoyed. The ones that don't buy it, have a tendency to have problems getting enough money for more than living essentials and not much more.

Cowboys are still cowboys, I'm from Idaho I should know, blacksmiths are still blacksmiths, I should know I've helped them once or twice. Have they redefined the way they do business, most definitely they have redefined the way they do business, but they still exist and will as long as there is a need for them.

Premium content is becoming more prevalent (www.deviantart.com, pandora.com, and multitudes of pay for content sites) are using a business model where you receive what could easily be made freely available, for a fee. To see no ads on either deviant art or pandora you pay a monthly fee. To receive more benefit as a member of their site, you pay their monthly fee.

The future won't be free content, but instead multitudes of content providers fighting to prove they have the best to offer in content for the most reasonable prices. While I'm sure there are multitudes of people who agree with you, let me give you a heads up from the very generation you seem to think is causing the problem.

It isn't going to happen. And you are dead wrong.
 
 
Jun 10, 2010
Here is a very interesting letter that takes a different position on this topic:

http://www.magellanmediapartners.com/index.php/mmcp/article/the_walls_we_build_up/

My summary of main points:
- There is not enough evidence available at this time to support the claim that "piracy is the biggest problem" for authors.
- The limited evidence that is available suggests that some kinds of piracy actually increases paid sales.
- The music industry caused much of its own piracy problem by ignoring the shift in buying preferences from albums to single songs.
- Don't take actions that frustrate consumer demand.
- Embrace flexibility rather than dogmatically defending an existing business model.

My personal view as a consumer is that "pirated" content is not free, it has it's own costs to me: time to search and locate, possible quality problems, may not be in the format I need or want. I am willing to pay to avoid these problems.
 
 
Jun 6, 2010
>In short, nothing worth reading was written for free.

A good friend of mine used to say "if it is worth doing, it is worth getting paid for." Since he made a god living as an author, I tend to agree with his viewpoint. :)

I think you miss a very important point though, massive amounts of very good writing are available electronically for free - legally - right now. Most if not all of it was written for pay, but it is either out of copyright or the author's allowed it to be distributed electronically for free.

Anyone can find something good to read for $0 right now.

This was *not* true when I was a kind in the 1960's, or even when I graduated high school in the 1970s. Then, libraries were the single place where one could read just about anything for "free." One reason in the 1976 to seek admission to a good school was for access to their library. That is much less of an issue today.

The world is changing, and the writing profession has to change along with it, invent new ways to get people to barter their money for entertainment. The net is a big part of it, but personal readers like Kindle and iPad are ushering in a true phase change.

-Paul
 
 
Jun 4, 2010
While eReaders are replacing books, the process is going much slower than you'd think. Remember, books are made from recyclable (and often recycled) materials, they take very few resources to assemble, they are shipped and sold with no packaging, they require zero energy to operate, and they can be infinitely reused for decades, sometimes even centuries. Compare that to the iPad's mere ten hours of battery life and all the minerals from the Congo that are required to make one (with all the civil war and gorilla extinction that entails) and you'll see that while something will someday replace the book, this ain't it.
 
 
Jun 4, 2010
As an author, I found this post depressing, especially since Scott has a pretty good track record for predicting things. Given my bias, you'll dismiss the following argument as wishful thinking, and maybe you're right. But I'm going to write it anyway.

Scott is probably the best unpaid blogger on the web. His work is usually funny and always interesting. But the posts are relatively short (300-700 words), relatively unedited, and appear only once every two or three days. It's not enough to sate the audience that's out there.

To produce really good writing, it takes time, motivation, and intelligence. Anyone who has a job, or is looking for one, doesn't have the time. Anyone writing and not getting paid for it doesn't have the motivation. And anyone without a job nor the inclination to find one probably doesn't have the intelligence. In short, nothing worth reading was written for free.

Every now and again someone comes along who's uncommonly smart, uncommonly motivated, and who got rich cartooning and therefore doesn't need money – but this is extremely rare, and as long as he keeps cartooning, he still won't have time to write enough to make the rest of us obsolete.

When readers stop paying for content, that doesn't make writers unemployed. That's like saying the chef who makes the food at your office got fired, because the food is free – someone does pay him, just not the guy eating. Everything you read on Huffington Post, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, even Cracked, has a professional author behind it. Websites employ writers to attract readers to attract advertisers. These sites also pay editors (because no first draft was ever worth reading either) and publicists, and administrators, and accountants, and lawyers, and so on.

The world is changing rapidly, and I agree that as our ability to search for content improves, the value of the content decreases - but I don't believe it can reach zero. Will the job of “author” disappear in the next few decades?

Either I don't think so, or I hope not. It's hard to tell.
 
 
Jun 4, 2010
Oh pooh on that Mr. Adams.

If anything, the iPad (and iPhone) is proving that people are willing to pay cash for good content. Just not as much as perhaps, the RIAA and book publishers think things are worth. The entirely insane high price of electronic books is totally a reaction by publishers, assuming that e-books are going to cut into their massive hardback book margins. Paying $9.99, or $12.99, or $15.99 for an e-book, when I can buy the hardback for $17.50 is - not sane. Publishers are reacting to what they perceive as a scarce audience, when in reality, the audience is far far wider.

One of the best things about e-books is that, at least currently, they are not filled to overflowing with advertisements. Another reason a lot of people are willing to *pay* for them.

I might mention that the Dilbert web site is far to crammed with advertisements - and with junk that our virus detection software keeps complaining about. Getting on the daily e-mail list almost means having to filter out truly amazing amounts of unwanted SPAM too.

Do you not think people would pay you $10/year or so to e-mail the daily strips to them without the added baggage? Or follow Howard Taylor's lead and put out an iPad app. He gets- oh - I think $12/year for "subscriptions" to _Schlock Mercenary_. The strip looks good on the iPad, does not make me go to the web site to see it, and apparently, has more than a few subscribers.

The value of media will increase, and people have more and more of it to chose from with less and less effort. Again, the evidence shows that people are willing to pay for good content.

I will say that there will be what market analysts euphemistically call "a correction" in the pricing of media. It is worth exactly as much as people are willing to pay for. Stuff in the $5 and under range is selling faster than Dogbert wags his tail when handed large sums of money. Meaning that people are willing to pay about $5 for a good e-book. That also fits in with Jim Baen's experiences over at Baen Books. Indeed, they find that giving away some content actually can increase the sales of some of the midlist authors.


As for searching for illegal content on the web, well there you have me sir. I am in the over "40" age group you mentioned that has only the most vague idea how one would go about finding say, an electronic copy of a Dilbert book for illegal downloading. Easier to order it off Amazon. It arrives in a couple day, all fresh and new, and without any shipping charges. (Well okay, with prepaid shipping charges - Amazon gets me for $80 or so a year for "Prime" shipping, but I do believe we make up the difference and come out at least slightly ahead every year.)


 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 4, 2010
What about textbooks?
 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 4, 2010
The part of this that I find disturbing is that artists, like everybody else, need to eat, have a roof over their heads and so on, and if nobody is going to be willing to pay for the content that these creative individuals produce, then somebody is going to have to come up with a business model that involves the product being free, and the producer still getting paid.

I'm thinking that in the future artists will essentially be in the business of creating art as a delivery system for advertisements, as that seems to be how most websites function, the content is free, but it comes wrapped in adds. This is how television has functioned with a good amount of success for over half a century.



 
 
Jun 3, 2010
You're half right. If this is the future of content, then we're just going to see content generators find alternative means of financial gain. My prediction is that books will make use of advertising between pages, like with magazines. In fact, I'm almost surprised they don't do that already. If an author is prolifically read, then an advertiser is guaranteed to reach millions of readers; unlike magazines, readers of books aren't going to be prone to skimming the pages, either.

A music album could also place commercials between songs. All that is required is for the financial incentive to outweigh the risk of alienating consumers with such aggressive tactics. However, if people aren't going to pay for the content itself, then I don't see why providers wouldn't do this.
 
 
Jun 3, 2010
Scott Sigler (www.scottsigler.com) gives his books away for free. He also sells the VERY same books them on Amazon. People get to read and hear his books and then DECIDE to buy his books when they come out. On June 22nd check out where is book is on Amazon's best seller list. Then a week or two later watch the New York best seller list and see that very same book on it. His last book made the best seller list. He is in the middle of a multi book deal with Crown (big publisher).

People see he puts out great content and want him to keep doing so. Everyone can listen for free but if you like it and want him to continue he asks that you buy his books when they come out. When he started out he had a day job. Now his day job is a full time author.

People will pay for good content. The movie industry has had the best year EVER in terms of box office revenue (even with pirating). Music is selling like crazy on the web. Apple iTunes is making the music industry millions of dollars. The music industry is stuck on a broken business model and they are blaming pirates. Change your business model and the money will come.
 
 
Jun 3, 2010
A complex topic, but basically why should writers be immune from technological progress?

Many people produce content without (or at least a limited) expectation of ever getting paid. Also ask the question of how much sympathy is there for an assembly line worker who has lost his or her job because of advances in technology? Why should authors be immune from market forces?

People were producing content before "copyright" ever existed. So people will continue to produce content no matter what the state of copyright is.

Research that is being undertaken indicates that the availability of "free" content does not have a significant adverse effect on sales.

One of the most important aspects concerning the so-called "protection" of copyrighted content concerns the imposition of onerous restrictions on the consumer. Police state anyone? While a content creator may have a legitimate claim to protecting their content, they are increasingly doing it by depriving the consumer of their rights to the content. Yes consumers have property rights to content also!!!

Not only that, but many content creator seem to believe they can impose ever increasing licensing restrictions, such as not allowing content on a CD to be placed on a computer or to time shift content. In summary, content creators are themselves violating the rights of consumers in their quest to protect their revenue stream.

The free market is NOT about protection. If you can't compete to bad. If that means that content is not created, so be it.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 3, 2010
Scott,
you forget to mention another reason to buy books, DVDs and CDs.
I always buy stuff from artists I really like. Even knowing I could easily get everything online, I enjoy having the "original" stuff, because it usually comes in a nice box but, mostly, because I really want to give money to the people who make stuff I like. Examples:
- I really like Bon Jovi. I have all of the cds.
- I have the complete collection of all the shows I like - Seinfeld, How I met your mother, South Park, American Dad.
- I have all the Pixar movies on DVD.
What I usually do is wait a while to buy, so the books / cds / dvds I want are at a really low cost. I got Dilbert 2.0 and paid ridiculous $ 25 dollars for it. It felt like I was stealing from you by paying only this (I don't believe this price even cover the production cost, it's made of a thick glossy paper with a nice fabric cover).
The day they created the South Park Studios web site was the happiest day of my life. But even being able to see every episode online, I have them on DVD because I think the authors deserve to be rich. And I like to have the dvds in their original cases.
The day I found out about the Dilbert website was the second happiest day of my life, since I'm being able to read all Dilbert comments from #1. But this won't make me not buy the books because I enjoy having them and I think you deserve to be rich (and this 2 examples aren't a illegal way to get the material, even so I rather pay).
 
 
 
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