The Gas Is Still In The Pump
I think analogy-making is a difficult enterprise. Especially regarding computers, software, or the Internet.
The fight over the destiny of copyright and digital reproduction of music is leading many to make analogies in an attempt to have some intellectual model to help define practice and philosophy. An interesting analogy was recently made by the head of Disney, Michael Eisner. He said
"If someone figured out how to unlock the gas in the gas station, people would be outraged," Mr. Eisner added. "They wouldn't say to the oil industry, `You need a different business model.' "I understand this is a difficult and somewhat emotional issue for the stakeholders of copyrighted music. Nevertheless, I think his analogy isn't a good basis for a economic model in the era of file-swapping. Instead go check out this entry at the weblog of Kevin Marks, who I think does a good job of providing analogies that push back at Eisner's well-meaning but problematic reduction.
To Kevin's analogies I would add something about digital reproduction: "If someone figured out how to create a copy of the gas in a gas station just by standing near a pump, thereby gaining as much gas as the station without the station losing any gas, people would be delighted. In fact, you couldn't really say that the gas was 'stolen'."
Devices, Collection, and Value
In other news, the success of the iPod has me musing about exactly how some people are collecting and consuming music in these handheld, small, portable devices. I wonder if people are developing impermanent collections whose content changes often and moves from device to device. In this situation, the device's value has primacy over its changing content. This scenario scares the RIAA, because they often wonder who would buy an album if it's so easy to swap music?
However, I also wonder if people with these devices would still prefer to rely on a permanent collection where they could swap the contents of their impermanent collections easily. I'm inclined to believe that in this scenario, people would still want some way to fulfill their desire for an attractive, universally portable, physical collection to display and collect.
It leads me to an idea that people who consume in this fashion might be inclined to pay more for a permanent collection if it stored more, matched the cost of blank backup media, and categorized itself easily. They might, say, pay $25 USD for a DVD that contained five artists' albums of a certain genre. Let's choose a genre I know a bunch about... wouldn't people who are burning mix CDs and transferring songs to an iPod / Rio / Nomad pay 25$ for a DVD that contained the latest albums from The White Stripes, Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, and The Faint?
25 bucks! Think of it! Even if all the MP3s were available on each band's site - they really couldn't match the value. Especially if there were digital extras on the DVD, such as those that appear with movies.
I think for most consumers of this type, the benefit of one-stop shopping would outweigh the cost of buying each album separately, ripping it, then storing the data on backup CDs or on hard drives.
Just thinkin'. And before you say it, I recognize that it's would be nearly impossible to co-ordinate major releases into a collection and then separate royalties. I don't think it's the solution; I'm just peering into my crystal ball in an attempt to suss out possible alternative distribution models.