Thursday, October 21, 2010


The best article on FARTS (Forced ARTificial Scarcity) you'll ever read, by David Wong for The punchline, which comes at the beginning of the article:

If you want to know what the future looks like, there it is. The future is going to hang on whether or not businesses will be able to convince you to pay money for things you can otherwise get for free.

(Be sure to watch that hilarious YouTube video lampooning the iPhone at the end of Wong's article.)

I've long wondered about this myself. To me, it seems that digital commodities, which can be perfectly reproduced at zero or near-zero cost, can't enjoy the normal copyright protections accorded to other types of intellectual property. What we need is a new paradigm, something that trumps the FARTS mentality. As Wong himself points out, simply giving our creations away for free is unhelpful; everyone will go broke. At the same time, expecting consumers not to want a free version of your digital creation seems equally unhelpful, given how easy it is to obtain free copies of it. What's the middle ground? Perhaps, when a digital product comes out, we need to focus on the early-adopter crowd to pay through the nose for access to the product. Make it a question of early release versus general release, with the poorer, slower, lazier masses receiving the product for free after the first wave has been bought up by the richies. To eliminate the "redistributionist hacker" problem, minimize the time between early and general releases.

Note that this question doesn't apply to things that are hard to replicate. Non-digital works of art, for example: paintings and sculptures can only be forged at great effort and expense. The same goes for money: you need quite a complex apparatus to create convincing counterfeits.

But digital products? I really can't see how we can go on charging money for them when-- as Wong points out-- they're so easy to distribute once they've been made., the print-on-demand self-publishing website, has anticipated this, and allows authors to charge nothing for e-versions of their manuscripts. (An author can also charge something for those e-scripts, but how likely are people to buy them?)


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