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This is too long for identi.ca and Twitter, but too good to pass up:
“It’s no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population
growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it’s about the only
environmental issue for which they can’t be blamed.”
Quote from Stop blaming the poor. It’s the wally yachters who are burning the planet in the Guardian.
(via Kevin Smith)
On Friday, 24th October, I attended an Open Rights Group event where Neil Gaiman spoke about the impact of digital “piracy” on authors such as himself. His thesis was that the free availability of content from books, even when it is contemporaneously for sale in print, is in fact beneficial for the creator. This is, he said, because their greatest challenge, in a world crowded with writers, is to be “tasted” by potential readers and publishers.
He recounted a few of his own experiences with publishing free content on his website, noting that in each instance, the net effect was an increase in his book sales. He explained that the free availability of books enables new readers to try them out, and (somewhat counter-intuitively) does not discourage potential buyers from buying them. Some of the explanations he offered were:
Reading books is more pleasant than reading from a computer screen. This seems intuitively true for most people, as the practical advantages of books (low cost, durability, light weight, ease of use, and so on) outweigh those of digital content. He quoted Douglas Adams as having said that “books are sharks”, highly evolved to suit their purpose, and that “nothing is better at being a book than a book”. He acknowledged that this could change in the future, but pointed out that there were other ways that he could uniquely profit from his works, such as live readings.
Book buyers derive pleasure from the tangible experiences of owning books and passing them on to friends. Digital storage and copying, while extremely efficient, do not evoke the same feelings as these physical acts. Contrast browsing a bookshelf with scanning filenames, or receiving an email attachment with opening a neatly wrapped book. They offer very different social and sensory experiences.
Readers buy books explicitly to support (“give back to”) the author. Gaiman compared this to his experience of tasting many flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins and then feeling compelled by guilt to purchase one. I found this one the least compelling, but he does seem to have many loyal readers.
I think there is some truth in each of these, and would be interested to see research on this subject. What does motivate buyers, and does this change when they are aware of corresponding content which is free?
There were several good questions and comments, though I didn’t have the opportunity to present one. This is because I didn’t put my hand up. I have always been hesitant to ask questions from within an audience. This, for some reason, makes me even more self-conscious than addressing an audience, perhaps because many of the people are behind me.
I wanted to pose a question about the impact of technological advancement. The model that Gaiman described for digital books relies on the existence of related works and experiences which cannot be digitally reproduced: physical books, live performances, autographs, and so on. The technological trend, however, is that digital experiences are becoming richer and richer, and science fiction writers have long extrapolated that they will become indistinguishable from first-hand sensory experiences.
The experience of browsing a bookshop, wandering around an art museum, or attending a musical performance, will eventually be able to be reproduced with such fidelity that it can be exchanged as easily as a photograph.
What will be left to sell when a digital reproduction is virtually as good as the real thing? How will creativity be rewarded in a world where most of today’s creative works are merely information, and information is truly free?
This situation exists today for the creators of digital works, and the answers are unclear. The growth and diversity of these works will depend on whether we find ways to sustain their creators. Tools like the GNU GPL and Creative Commons BY-NC-SA help us to define boundaries around our work, but the system as a whole is not yet well defined or understood, particularly where free software is concerned.
There are many experiments underway in free software economics. Canonical sells services associated with the software we distribute. Some developers publish their work in hope of earning a reputation, followed by a job, in much the same way that Gaiman describes.
How about you? How will your free software works sustain you, so that you can continue to create?
It looks like this blogging business isn’t going away. There’s only one thing for it: start a blog. I hope that it will help me to practice free and unrehearsed expression, and to remember to read others’ blogs.
I’m using wordpress on a single recommendation, and I hope that I can get all of my posts back out of this thing in case I decide to use something else.
Watch this space for musings on technology, cognition, social behavior and whatever else comes.