Sunday, January 31, 2010
Greed, Stupidity and Replication.
Medieval Printing Press - taken from http://www.renaissanceconnection.org/innovations_science.html - and replicated on your computer without permission.
I would like to pick up on the issues raised by Amanda, yesterday. We have raised these before on this blog and we will undoubtedly raise them again.
For most of the human experience one needed a bard to hear music or a story. Everything was created afresh because there was no way of replication. All this changed in the 15th Century with the invention of the printing press. The impact on human society was massive acceleration by orders of magnitude of any intellectual activity.
The Protestant reformation could not have happened without the replication of the bible. Science and art leapt forward. However, there were doormen. Replication required specialist skills, equipment and capital.
Fast forward to the 20th Century and we have new forms of replication for sound and vision. Some are transient, like the radio and television, but others are permanent, notably musical records. However, the same economic rules applied as for publishing. A lucrative industry grew up around the replication business.
Music is an interesting example because a massive industry grew up selling records. Note that they did not sell 'music' but replications of music and the major beneficiaries were suits rather than artists. Indeed, the music business damn near killed live music.
The first cloud on the suit's horizon came in the form of the cassette recorder. Anyone could make a replicate but it was a slow business and, in practice, easily controlled by the industry.
The digital world of the last two decades has changed everything. We thought of computers as symbolic logic processing machines when I started using them in the early 1970s. However, modern systems can just as easily be described as replication machines. They make replicates, quickly and cheaply. Replication is central to their very function. They can create infinite replications and distribute them anywhere.
The impact for the music industry has been devastating. How do you control the price of replicates when they can be produced in infinite numbers, free at the point of use, anywhere in the world? Well, you can't.
Lord Mandy of Rio, who actually runs Britain while Gordy sulks in his cage at No 10, has been persuaded by the industry to switch off the internet connections to those who download 'pirate' software. Well guess what? It turns out that the people who download 'pirate' software are the same people who are the customers who pay for music online. Duh! Well done the music industry!
All together guys, put the shotgun barrels in your mouth and pull the trigger. That'll show them that you are not to be trifled with.
None of this affects musicians all that much. The trend is to give away recorded music and then charge for live performances. Live music is back. It's the music industry that is in trouble.
The publishing industry has mostly adopted a firm policy of pretending nothing is happening, with the exception of some far sighted individuals like Jim Baen. This has worked up to a point because paperback books are cheap and convenient while reading fiction on an electronic machine has been an unpleasing experience. This is all set to change with the development of ebook readers.
The industry has no plan and no clue. Currently it is trying to pretend that an ebook is just a book in a different format. Hence, DRM, overpricing and the current skirmish between the suits at Amazon and Macmillan. That is a turf war between threatened clans over the last waterhole in a drought.
It is not clear how this is going to pan out. Ebook readers are still not as convenient as a paperback but they will only get better. There are still big differences between the publishing and music industry. For example, authors do not perform in the same way as musicians. However, one has to wonder how much of the infrastructure designed to convey a manuscript from an author to a buyer (the publisher, the distributor, the wholesaler, the bookshop) can survive when the consumer can click on a website and make a replicate on their computer that had a zero manufacturing cost?