I watch little television, so I’ve felt comfortable ignoring the writers strike, which has been going on since November.
But it’s hard to escape the strike’s effects while hanging out in Southern California, where writers of movies and TV shows are essential to what they call The Industry here.
Not surprisingly, a search for a bracing perspective on the matter took me to Articulation and Activism: In Praise of Screenwriters … and “Hackwriters” Too — a post last month by my old friend and colleague Stephen Lewis at his blog Hak Pak Sak. His core points:
|The strikers’ demands focus on residuals from new and emerging distribution channels — especially the internet. Over the last decades, writers time and again missed the boat on gaining a fair share of earnings from the recycling of their work via new media, including videocassettes and DVDs. Now, they are determined not to repeat this mistake with internet distribution. All of us who who are paid job-by-job for our labor and/or creative abilities should back the strikers in whatever ways we can. The same goes for those of us who believe in the future of internet as the primary distribution channel for news, opinion, knowledge, and entertainment and who understand that media are just what the word implies, i.e. “dark fiber” and “empty pipes”, vehicles for conveying content and no more. In the end, backing the strike means willingness to pay for internet content, directly or indirectly, and to pressure those who charge for content, i.e. the owners of networks and other marketing shells, to ensure that a fair share of the life-long earnings of productions goes those who create them.|
Steve has also been active in ProjectVRM, and his post moves me to point out that VRM should, among other things, create business models that facilitate “willingness to pay” for writing and other “content” in the open marketplace where the users of that content have wide-open choices over what to pay for creative goods and how to relate to creators. Our job is to create that “how”. Hollywood won’t, and perhaps can’t. Certainly not without our help, anyway.
That “how” needs to lower the friction involved in “willingess to pay” in the direction of zero. That is, the cost in time and effort required to pay must move toward zero until the willingness to pay exceeds the same value. This challenge first faced us with Napster, and nearly all “solutions” from the supply side since then have ranged from harmful to inadequate.
The will to pay fair sums for perceived value needs to be melded with technology that facilitates 1) working relationships (on an elective basis for both supply and demand), and 2) efficient transaction. Neither can be scaffolded on the old supply-controlled systems that feel threatened by the Net. Nor can it be built on an artist-by-artist or distributor-by-distributor basis, because that will just result in countless narrowly-focused and incompatible CRM (customer relationship management) systems, such as those we see today with public broadcasting, where CRM systems restrict listeners and viewers to paying for freely available creative goods only through hundreds of different channels comprised of stations that mostly comprehend relationship only in terms of “membership”.
Nor can it be built only inside some large company’s walled garden. The most free markets will be built on the most free customers — and the most creative and resourceful suppliers and intermediators.
VRM systems need to leverage the freedom and facilitate the independence of individuals, and their ability to make their own choices. They must enable passive consumers to become active customers. It must help demand find and drive supply at least as well as supply drives and creates demand. A healthy market ecosystem with have both. Not just the latter.
The markets that arise from independent and enabled customers will be incalculably varied and large. And some of the largest potential facilitators of those markets — especially those without stakes in the old distro systems — are in an ideal position to help out here, and to break free of their own old failing or hidebound business models. (Hear that, phone companies? Retailers? Banks and credit card companies?) This is the Intention Economy I wrote about almost two years ago. We’ve made progress in that direction (especially around identity), but we still have a long way to go.
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