February 4, 2004
The current trend in digital media services is the Digital Music Store – more or less, you pay to download or stream copies of songs. Whether you pay by the song or by the month, you’re paying that particular service to give you access to those copies. Though people now have the ability to spread copies far and wide, these services hope that that won’t be a major problem. To an extent, the Stores are predicated on a combination of technology and law making P2P distribution and downloading significantly costly to the user. In this way, they imagine a future in which copies can still be controlled.
ACS’ jump off from a different spot. For one, you wouldn’t really pay for access to a particular service in the co-op or mandatory models (note: this a new draft from Professor Fisher). Anyone could be a streamer or download service, so long as they counted the relevant downloads. Also, they try to build on rather than fight against the ability to make copies of digital media. But they don’t do so by simply accepting that the exclusive right to copy and distribute are dead. Rather, they try to monetize those actions in alternative ways.
In terms of current dialogue, I’d say these two models dominate the current landscape. Before, people talked more about a myriad of other alternative models that accepted that copies could no longer be controlled and thus focusing on that revenue stream should greatly lessened if not abandoned in the digital age. Raymond Ku and Mark Nadel (among others) have fleshed out the ideas well. Mary explains the basics, and many models are listed here by the EFF. Among them: tip jars and donations; live performance, merchandising, and other complementary products generating revenue; ad-driven models; and charging for the first copy only (see: Digital Art Auction and Street Performer Protocol). Even Magnatune, which sells copies of albums, follows this pattern to some extent – the sales are almost donations, because the songs are CC licensed, there’s nearly unlimited high qualify try before you buy options, and you choose your own price – basically, Magnatune is banking on fans in niche markets will be highly devoted to the artists they support.
Two things occur to me about these models. First, they are both more and less sustainable than some people in the past have asserted. When I first read about these models, tip jars in particular (I don’t know when), they were talked up a lot - when Stephen King stopped writing his book online, people said that these schemes were pure hype. The truth is likely somewhere in between. These models can make money – the question is how much and for whom, and what meaning does that have for our media environment.
The second point, then, is just that. How far do these models go towards creating a thriving artistic culture? Start with these general counterarguments (pg 74). Because of cost savings, one need not necessarily replace the entirety of the revenue streams from copying and distribution; however, those are sizeable streams to make up. Perhaps we don’t need to make them up – we’re content with a lower amount of revenue and thus maybe a smaller, or at least a different, media market. Fine, many musicians don’t currently make money off of selling copies anyway, but many artists also don’t make much money from the other streams. Are we expecting a tiered and varied industry, with some nationally popular artists, some regionally, many indies, et al? Or will we see a ton smaller indies be sustainable but unable to make revenue, exposure, and success go beyond that? Will we have a lot of people like Magnatune’s artists, focusing on niche markets but not moving above, and are there any negative consequences of that? And what about the consequences of having artists overly dependent on selling merch or pushing ads – aren’t only certain types of media and artists capable of doing well this way?
There is no satisfactory or unsatisfactory answer here. Rather, I want to get a sense of why people think these models will or won’t work, and what it means for them to work. What does that world of alternative biz models look like?