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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+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
Cory Doctorow, Peter Watts and others are quality modern authors who have made their works available for all to download for free legally under a Creative Commons licence. Doctorow asks that if you like his books then you go buy a paper copy. He retains the copyright, however, and so can see the moive or TV rights, etc. He makes a living.

However, ebooks are TINY and so much faster to download than movies or even music that they will get ripped much more. Even War and Peace is just over 3Mb in Unicode, the largest version on Project Gutenberg. I am currently living in China where its expensive and difficult to get English language books and I'm reading lots of the out-of-copyright classics for free on my Android phone with a free app called Aldiko.

Another commenter was correct that ebooks are overpriced. The distribution and printing costs are eliminated, so why not that discount for starters? There is a huge, cheap, second-hand book market on ebay, in charity shops and general second hand bookstores: I got most of my books from these sources in the UK and ebooks can't compete, because 2nd hand means "illegal" for ebooks. So, I'd love to read some new paid-for ebooks legally, but not at the stupid prices that are charged for them.

By the way, go and read some (free) Rafael Sabatini for some great classic Pirate Stories.
Jun 1, 2010
Yes, I admit to downloading almost everything for free. That loophole is the General Public License (or open-source for those savvy to internet lingo).
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
I'm no rocket surgeon, but if search capabilities improve to the point that they can locate good authors that will work for free, won't they also have improved enough that they can locate the odd-balls still willing to pay for books and movies?
Jun 1, 2010
I download my music. If I like it, I usually make a $20 donation directly to the artist via their website. I like the idea that they are getting the money directly for their effort. I also go to concerts at least a few times a year to support artists as well.

Bottom line I think my approach to Music could work for any e-content. If artists/producers/authors offered their content directly to consumers via the web, and accepted donations I think they could be better compensated then the current situations; because it would be as easy as obtaining other legal content today and would make supporting their favorite artists just as easy. Put it in the hands of the consumer, if you want more you should pay for it, and at the same time the artist is making it easy to consume and compensate them for their efforts. I'll admit this assumes a minimal level of benevolence in people... I believe NIN, and Radiohead have tried this model? Although they were already famous when they started to use this model.

Of course another way to provide content ad-free is the pay to avoid ads. I would pay $10 a year or a dollar a month for dilbert.com to be ad free for my login. It would be interesting to see if you'd make more money off this site this way.

The following are just my thoughts on Books/Movies compensation:

Books: I'm one of those relatively young tech savvy types who can get anything digital for free. However, in the case of E-Books I have found that hard copies are higher quality (e-books are more prone to spelling mistakes, which is inexpiable that they are not using the same manuscript sent to the printer!), and if I managed to destroy even a hardcover book I might be out $30 versus $200 for an E-reader. Speaking of $, e-books should be much cheaper since copying a file is nearly free, I should see some sort of discount for not consuming printing resources. So until they can provide me a disposal electronic version of equal quality at a 60% discount over a hard copy I will keep buying hardcovers.

Software: Simple rule, if I make money with it I pay for it. If it's a small developer I will donate to their site. If it's a large developer they are already subsidized by corporate clients. Unless they have extremely generous consumer pricing then I will pay.
Jun 1, 2010
There is already an industry crumbling under the erosion of the value of their content - Japanese manga and anime artists are already low-paid, work brutal hours and are finding that their work is worth almost nothing, when groups scan it in and distribute it (with translations into many languages) for free. Companies that license this material are competing against free, fast digital reproduction. The impact is killing a fledgling industry in the west and eating away at the Japanese industries as well.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
Comics like xkcd and Penny Arcade have done well without newspaper syndication fees. I think in the future there will still be "authors" (or at least cartoonists), they'll just get paid differently if they're successful.
Jun 1, 2010
I came across this TED talk which says the fashion industry is huge *because* they are allowed to freely copy from each other. There is an amusing graph near the end comparing the relative sizes of uncontrolled (freely stolen) and controlled intellectual property (like books).

Jun 1, 2010
I recently got an iPhone and have been reading books off of it in eReader and PDF viewer light. I downloaded both the applications for free and the books I've been reading on them for free too. One is special interest and the others are old, old, old, but still good IMHO.

I've read both indoors and outdoors, full daylight, canned light and in the dark, with no difficulty. Unless the iPad's screen is much worse than the iPhone (and having played with one briefly last weekend, I wouldn't say it is) I doubt there will be much trouble reading outside. If so, get an anti-glare film to protect the screen or something.

As for content: In the same way that most people are willing to pay $1 for a song or an application, I, and I think many others, would be more than happy to pay $1 for a book or a movie. I've noticed however that many of the new/hot titles available for purchase are basically the same price as e-books as paperbacks.

I've heard of plans to allow people to check out a book from the library and recieve it digitally after which it will automatically delete within a certain amount of time. In this way, you could obtain copies whenever you wanted and never buy a book again. If they did the same for movie rentals, we'd be all set for life. A stream of ads running along the bottom of the screen of your television, eReader or iPad would be as commonplace as ads on the bus.

Regarding comments about watching your favourite stars eating Big Macs, et al, that's how television started, really, with product placement and endorsements by the actors during the live show, no commercials.

And regarding the interview quote with Mick Jaggar, maybe that's what the music industry needs: At one time, if you were a musician, it was because you loved music, and you were good at singing and/or playing an instrument. Today, if you look marketable, you can be a musician, no matter how crappy you sound or if you can't play an instrument or do anything besides photograph well.

And maybe that would happen with books too. Only those with real passion, talent and/or a following would get edited and marketed, with ads being appended to the digital copies and a heftier price tag for a hard copy.

I could live with that, easy.
Jun 1, 2010
I think you've missed a big point, and that is while things are free to an end user, they are also tricked into buying things by a parallel process called "advertising", which the content providers happily take a fee for. Think of your blog page - it is covered in adverts for Google, and your blog content even specifically mentions google as if it is the ultimate in searching. I assume that while I haven't paid you to read your blog, Google certainly has paid you to show me their ad's.

All those movies coming out eventually make it to free TV for the masses, but the movie makers still get paid. The issue is that people downloading the movie are getting it without ad's. Seems like the logical thing to do is to make it easy to download an ad filled movie in high quality, as long as you can target the advertising appropriately. The idea that movies can make lots of money at the box office might be in trouble unless they can come up with gimmicks that make it an experience people can't get at home. E.g. Special tv's that need glasses are one idea that enforces people to watch things alone at home alone and not invite 20 mates over to enjoy, so that doesn't compete with cinema's at all.

My prediction is that in future advertisers will want a piece of the action that a new movie brings, and you'll see Will Smith chomping on a Big Mac or a Whopper, depending on whether you downloaded it from McDonalds.com or BK.com
Jun 1, 2010
It is increasingly obvious that I am an old fart (at 45). 99.4% of the music that I have on my hard drive is fully legal. (The remaining 0.6% are CDs that friends gave me to listen to and I never got around to deleting them from my iTunes library.)

I am fully capable of getting all of the free (and illegal) music that I want to get (I may be an old fart, but I can still Google with the best of y'all), but I would prefer to pay for it just to be legal... But, then, I am reasonably well compensated. I suspect I would've done differently if I was in high school and college during the current era...

Heck, I even pay the premium for hard-cover books. What a dinosaur!!

That said, my wife (who is 3.5 years older than I) reads books almost exclusively on her laptop and would very much like to get an e-reader. (Which she will probably get if my company ever gives me my long-overdue commission check...)
Jun 1, 2010
Your views co-incide with those of Mick Jagger:

"But I have a take on that - people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn't make any money out of records because record companies wouldn't pay you! They didn't pay anyone!

"Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

"So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn't."

From this BBC interview: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8681410.stm
Jun 1, 2010
Good content often requires good editors, so you also need good editors who are willing to work for free. Also people who do these things for free will produce content slower as they will most likely need to have a real job to pay the bills. This will piss off people who want lots of new stuff now when they see new releases in their favorite media become a little more rare.

I think there will be people who will be happy with cheap quality for free, but hopefully there will be enough people willing to pay to keep media producers producing.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
Sorry for posting twice today, but this got me thinking about how free online books could lead to some serious targeted advertising.

Picture it. You're on a park bench next to a tranquil pond reading your daylight functional iPad. You're reading Dicken's classic A Tale of Two Cities. Sydney Carton has just arrive at the guillotine, his head resting on the already blood soaked chopping block. Images of revolutionaries who will follow him to this grisly end are dancing through his head. Suddenly the blade comes flashing down.

AND BANG!!!! Video pop up advertisement for a new Gillette 13 blade razor! "Never experience the inadequacy of a mere 12 blade razor again."
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
[Set phasers to snark.]

This from the guy who was stymied by his own coffee maker, then bought BP stock which is also approaching an economic value of zero.
Jun 1, 2010
This kinda makes me glad I never saw the movie "The Hurt Locker".

Even, if by some miracle, you could curb all illegal downloading and piracy on the internet in the US, this would not be enforceable in countries such as China. To curb this, let's say you only release the film or music in the US, and make it illegal to export, or take your ipod out of the country. The major problem is the greediness of big business, if they were to only release a film or music in the US, they would miss out on at least half of the revenues that a worldwide viewing would generate. So instead, the companies will spend more money than they could even hope to recover on suing the people who enjoyed their movies and music, yet ignore the major offenders overseas.

I think the money could be better spent ending world hunger, or developing clean, renewable, abundant fuels.

Personally, I feel that they should focus their efforts on the abusers who choose to profit from their movies, and look the other way for the ones who download for personal use only. But then again, I am someone who believes that prostitution and marijuana should be legalized, government regulated and taxed.

I like the idea however of being able to make small payments for movies and music, provided there is an easy way to pay. Also, as someone who has paid $20 for a CD to only like 1 or 2 songs, I would also like the idea that you could return the item, and delete it if you weren't satisfied.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
I agree that the future of authoring and publishing books will be very different than it is today, but disagree that there won't be best-selling authors. Quality material will still be shared and win out over all the rest. What may change is that there will no longer be JK Rowling/Stephen King-wealthy best-selling authors.

If paid content really takes a nose dive, it wouldn't surprise me if we find a return to a patronage system, where the Richard Bransons of the world pay authors and artists to produce content (as a public service for the rest of us).

Or we could also find that authors find another way to earn a decent (if not very financially rewarding) living. After all, they do still have an important control point. What if Ms. Rowling had decided to hold poor Harry Potter hostage after his 3rd year at Hogwarts, stipulating that she would only produce the next installment after, say, a million people each contributed $1 to compensate her for her time and effort. Certainly that's a small price for any individual to pay to read (for "free") what would happen next.
Jun 1, 2010
I'm the rare 21-year-old who pays for most of his music. I have tiers as well: if it's really good, I buy it on vinyl. If it's good and I want a hard copy, I buy it on CD. If I have it and I enjoy it from time to time, I buy the mp3s. If I'm testing it out, I'll steal it from my brother (who has 5 times as much music as I have, but practices the same theory) or torrent it. If I like it, it gets purchased. If I don't, I delete it.

There may not be a ton of people my age that do this, but Record Store Day (April 20 or something every year) is the biggest day of sales for record companies and record stores every year, and it gets bigger every year. This year's Record Store Day broke all sorts of records for sales. I spent $130 on hard copies of music, 70% of which I already had on mp3. I think there may be a resurgence in purchasing of hard copies of music, although never to the level it once was.

I wonder how anyone could be a full-time author, if this trend continues? I feel bad stealing books, so I get them from the library or I buy them. I have almost no issues with music theft, because the bands receive almost none of the money. Music is one of the things that I want to buy straight from the manufacturer, as it were. I feel differently about literature. Being a truly great author takes tons of hard work, and thousands of hours. I don't see many people working that hard at something for free. I suppose it's possible, but it seems more unlikely.

What will the future Oprahs give away on their talk shows?
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
Didn't you write about this phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago?
I believe you described having released God's Debris online hoping it would spur sales in your other books. Consumers responded by asking you to make your other books for free.

So technically.... you could be considered one of the fathers of zero economic value content.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
The good news, if you are correct, is that the barrier to entry would be much lower. A writer would no longer have to convince a publisher to take a chance on him/her as an author. The bad news is that the vetting and editorial process does have value both to readers and to authors.

You theorize that talented content producers would spring up from all corners and grace us with poignant, beautiful prose, humor and poetry - in exchange for the non-monetary rewards that have ever motivated the true artist.

I think this will happen to some extent, but we will also lose access to talent (and never know what we've lost). The real question is how this cloud-based editorial review process will work. Will writing of true merit be discovered and propagated? By whom? Motivated by what?

What is clearly required to sustain such bright new world is an educated leisure class who have enough personal resources to allow them to focus their personal time and effort on sleuthing out and elevating beauty from the common mire.

The reality is that the role the publishing industry plays is an essential one and it cannot be eliminated entirely - but it can adapt and change - assuming we have an intellectual scab force at the ready.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
I can't reconcile the rabid anti-copyright position with ever-increasing demands for privacy.

Suppose that I write a story on my computer, solely for my own entertainment. And I really don't want anyone else to read this story, maybe because it's embarrassing, or libelous, or whatever.

And then I lose control of the file, through no fault of my own. Maybe a thief breaks into my house and steals my computer. Or a virus attacks my computer and copies my files to some computer in Russia. Or maybe it's an inside job, like the Climategate emails.

Now my story is out, and due to technology considerations I can't get it back. But the rabid anti-copyright position seems to be that I shouldn't be able to stop it from spreading, that it's somehow morally wrong for me to try to prevent people from seeing something of mine that I never wanted them to see. The anti-copyright position amounts to saying that government attempts at ensuring privacy are wrong in principle.

If that example doesn't make the point, then imagine that a peeping Tom takes nude photos of you and posts them to the Internet. And you're unhappy about it. And you realize that you can't remove the pictures as a practical matter. Then you discover that many people consider you to be a bad person for even trying to use the law to prevent people from seeing something that they want to see. Which in this case is you, naked.

The anti-copyright position would eventually destroy all legal protections of privacy.
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