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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

A couple of weeks ago while idly browsing the interwebs, I stumbled over this article about diamonds, written just in time for Valentine's Day. Being a huge fan of confirmation bias, I read it to once again gleefully affirm my distaste for the jewelry industry and my decade-old conviction that anyone who buys rare gems is a sucker and a half. To summarize: once upon a time, diamonds were very rare. Upon the discovery of huge mines in Africa and elsewhere in the late nineteenth century, diamonds were suddenly not so rare, but since mining companies (in particular, De Beers *shudder*) were able to control the supply (and, though brilliant marketing, the demand), they artificially inflated prices in an astoundingly evil way. (Seriously, I can't believe people fall for it.)

Last week I had to read Chris Anderson's Free for my "Digital Battlegrounds" class (see below). I waited a couple of days to start talking about it here because I admit I found myself getting noticeably happy-excited while turning the pages, and after putting it down, I wondered if I had just gulped down some Kool-Aid without looking.

But no, having allowed it to digest without incident, I really do think that anyone who is involved in the creative arts needs to read this book. It didn't tell me a whole lot that I didn't already know, at least instinctively, but I think it helped to strip away the clingy tattered remnants of sentimentality for the idea of selling digital works and to shed the last of my fears about giving stuff away (where stuff = mp3's, for example, which stream for free on my Bandcamp site).

As I see it, in many ways, the media commodities that were so heavily monetized in the twentieth century are going the way of diamonds, but instead of the supply flood originating in a few mines in remote locations, it's streaming out of every computer, everywhere. Entities like the RIAA and MPAA desperately want to be De Beers. But how can they be against such a tide? If they had been a little smarter, like De Beers, they would have jumped on the situation before it became a problem and won the culture war, but as I've ranted before, they were all too busy swimming in their Scrooge McDuck money pools and eating crayons.

There is no point in trying to monetize something that is no longer a commodity. It a futile exercise in idiocy to try to dig one's claws into a clearly outdated model of industry. What we need to realize (those of us who want to survive when the levees break) is that we need to figure out ways of monetizing properties that haven't been rendered worthless by digital technology - by using the amazing cheap/free resources of digital technology that are available to us as both consumers and artists.

It sounds terrifying, even to someone like me who is practically a copyright extremist next to colleagues in my field. Anyway, reading this book helped with that.

I am full of optimism! And hopefully not Kool-Aid.
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