Sunday, January 04, 2009

Free and Fee

Kevin Kelly, one of the editors of Wired, recently wrote a great article called Better Than Free which should be read by every arts organization, broadcaster, distributor, filmmaker and anyone else interested in figuring out how to build a business model in a world that’s increasingly trending towards free.

With so much free content coming online, whether purposely or through piracy, how do we get people to pay for content? Why would someone pay for your film, or your podcast, or your book, or whatever, when they can likely find something similar or identical for free? This is a question vexing many a business executive, the MPAA and others. I’ve always argued that you can have both, a middle ground of free and fee based content. This is nothing new, many others feel the same way, including Tiffany Shlain and Rick Prelinger in the film world, but not enough people get this yet.

The famous maxim that information wants to be free was only half the quote. There’s another half of the quote that is never mentioned:

“On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

Stewart Brand at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984

So, we’ve got these competing tensions, and Kevin Kelly’s come up with a neat way of thinking about the problem. He says:

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied.

So what things make someone pay for the content? What he calls generatives:

There are eight things that are better than free. Eight uncopyable values - "generatives."

A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured.

A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time.

In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold.

And what are they?

  1. Immediacy – The ability to get it now, or early;
  2. Personalized – getting it personalized to your liking, for example to “your” rating or length needs;
  3. Interpretation – For example, the idea behind many open source projects – the code is free, the manual costs 10K, or you’ll pay for that service;
  4. Authenticity – you pay for a official Dead album because it comes from and is endorsed by the Dead, even though you can get millions of bootlegs;
  5. Accessibility – someone else stores it for use anywhere – think of gmail and the move to cloud computing;
  6. Embodiment – The book is free, but attending a lecture with the author costs money, or think of the concert;
  7. Patronage – support the artist because you want them to keep creating – think of Radiohead’s recent experiment;
  8. Findability – helping you find it in the sea of content coming online.

These are my short-hand notes, but the full article isn’t very long and is worth a read. I think arts organizations are very well situated to capitalize on all of these, especially the last. I’ve been saying for years that the internet has been about search (Google) but the future of the internet is about Find – finding what you actually want, and arts organizations are curators at heart – they help you cut through the mass of junk to the one video, or painting, or play, or dance performance that you really want. They just need to transition to doing this online.

These all make sense for filmmakers as well – they point to easy ideas for thinking about how to make money on your film. For just one example, Embodiment is probably the future for most indie, especially doc, films making money . Give away the film, but charge for the lecture with you and the expert on the subject covered, or for getting you to speak to a university about the film. Personalized applies to versioning your film, etc.

Good stuff here, check it out.


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