Creative Content Distribution – From Then Till Now

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Amazon has recently announced the following statement regarding the Kindle:

We will be introducing lending for Kindle, a new feature that lets you loan your Kindle books to other Kindle device or Kindle app users. Each book can be lent once for a loan period of 14-days and the lender cannot read the book during the loan period. Additionally, not all e-books will be lendable [loanable*] – this is solely up to the publisher or rights holder, who determines which titles are enabled for lending.

While some people have considered this to be a sign of progress by a major player in the content distribution industry, it just makes me feel like I’m waiting for the commercial world of content distribution to catch up to the present.

When I say “the present,” I am referring to all the capabilities for content distribution that are technologically feasible at the time of this writing. For the sake of a somewhat critical examination of the options available to us, I am excluding moral & legal considerations. Instead, I would like to focus primarily on the areas held in common by individuals of all moral backgrounds, from all legal domains. It is important, not only to me, but also from the industry perspective that real, potential solutions be examined thoroughly beforethese options are actively inhibited.

This topic concerns more than the industry and their ability to thrive in the modern world. Content sharing technology affects many areas of society including economies, art & culture, the environment, education, access for those with a disability, and the ability (or inability) of any entity or group (government or otherwise) to censor content. While I would love to go into details and provide resources on each of these categories, it is beyond the simple point I wish to make here.

To share my personal comprehension of where society currently stands in it’s relationship between technological progress compared to our application of these discoveries, I will use a simple point system. The specific area of technology I am interested in addressing is our ability to share information on the internet. The specific area of application for this technology which I wish to focus on is to gauge how well the content industry is implementing modern technology. The ideal score in this point scheme is zero. This denotes a reasonable balance between technological discovery and the application of these discoveries.

That said, let’s begin.

Let us travel through recent history for a look at what has unfolded thus far. We begin our journey through time at the of the birth of file-sharing technology. At this time, we/society/humans were are zero. This point of zero progress is not considering what came before or what is to come. I simply means that, at this time, we are implementing the modern technology available to us.

The Zero Years

The internet is born. It grows and thrives and information can be copied very quickly, easily and efficiently to anywhere in the world. The entire, human world is at the beginning of new progress, facing a multitude of potential solutions and problems introduced by this new technology.

Progress Points | 0

Here we are being offered this great technology for sharing information which is unrivaled by any previous record of human history. How is this done? In a nutshell, we have a network of computers. On each one, data is created. A song is recorded, a program is written to perform a particular function, a book is converted to cyber ink, a website is published, etc. In it’s pure state of creation, data can be copied from one computer to another. It is a fairly simple process where one machine accesses and reads the data hosted by another machine and then proceeds to replicate that data locally. In other words, one machine arranges a series of 1′s and 0′s to match the pattern found on the other machine.

Well, this is just dandy! Anyone with a computer can now copy data from one another. This is amazing! It’s going to be huge! The internet begins to grow quickly as people share information with each other all over the world.

The Corporate Challenge

As internet usage among individuals becomes prevalent, businesses begin to take note. After all, where there are people, there’s a market. There are services and products to be sold, right? Now businesses are faced with a challenge: “How do we operate as a business in this new world of instant data sharing? How do we harness it’s advantages in order to cater to the modern consumer? How do we compete with, virtually, free distribution?”

With this challenge also comes the fears of beginning to operate in an environment where nobody on Earth has, as of yet, any experience to draw from. Product suppliers are able to work out the kinks, without much trouble, and sell their widgets on the internet.

On the other hand, for those businesses whose primary service offered is to provide access data, it is becoming quite apparent that their content is, all sentimental value aside, just data. They ask, worriedly, “how do we operate in a world where consumers can not only access the data we provide, but in turn provide access to this data for free?” It becomes apparent that content distributors are no longer the sole gatekeepers to accessing data.

Rather than seeking to gain experience in operating within the scope of this modern technology, where data is inherently free to be copied, those who control licensing to popular content begin to actively seek to impose limits on the capabilities of this new technology.

The Corporate Forfeit

At first, large copyright organizations avoid approval of distributing content via the internet altogether while they try to figure this out. They continue to rely on familiar old vessels of data distribution, such as a little something called the compact disc.

*Let me pause our travels through the past to give my younger readers a lesson in history. A CD was a shiny disc that makes for a great frisbee or faux ninja star, but back in my day, that’s how we got our music data. I know. Now it seems ridiculous to have to go buy CDs to access the data you want when there are services like iTunes that let you access the data directly, but in the early days of the internet, content suppliers left us no other option. We actually had to rip the data ourselves if we wanted to have a song on our hard drive or make it available for our friends on the internet.*

At this point in our journey, let’s see how we measure up for progress:
New technology is introduced for distribution. Content providers fail to use it. Broader use of the technology continues to grow. The technology it’s self improves as users become more experienced with it. Meanwhile, the content distribution industry remains at a stand-still while the world moves onward. For this, I’m deducting 3 points from humanity’s collective progress. (Sorry. In this game, we only move as fast as that gimpy guy in the back.)

Progress Points | -3

The Consumer Becomes the Master

Continuing where we left off on our magical school bus adventure through recent data sharing history, this growing void where accessible content should be is now becoming apparent to the consumers, whose patience shrinks with each day of becoming more familiarized and experienced with this new technology. As their knowledge of these new capabilities grows, consumer patience dwindles while waiting to be able to access the content they love in a modern, more convenient way. *Holy redundancy, Batman! I think I just said the same thing twice!*

From this combination of impatience and experience, the spirit of innovation begins. Rather than waiting for the content creators to provide contemporary means of distribution, people begin to create their own networks for distributing content (inb4 Napster).

Big Copyright Goes Green… With Envy

Although these networks are mostly frowned upon and much of the industry fights tooth and nail to prevent this from happening, a small compromise is made in the meantime (Circa 2000 AD). Throughout the various content related industries, we finally begin to see more access to data provided online directly from authorized distributors of books, movies, music, games, software made available.

Perhaps most significantly, iTunes opens for business January 2001. By July ’01, the most popular of these non-commercial file-sharing networks, Napster, ceases operation after receiving an injunction as the result of a lawsuit filed by the RIAA (the same profiteers behind iTunes). Better late than never, right? But there is a catch…

A Leap of Fear

The content can only be accessed at a central source. The “source” being a distributor which is authorized by the content’s rights holder. Furthermore, the original data is often intentionally altered for the sole purpose of making it more difficult for consumers to copy the data (even for non-commercial, personal use. See DRM).

Going back to the item which spawned this post for an example, a Kindle will let you read the e-book you purchased, but will not readily allow you to share that e-book because somebody went out of there way to make this more difficult. At this point in time, the decision to impose limits on the sharing of their content is made based on absolutely no experience in operating within the full scope of modern technology.

To put it another way, the content providers have no factual knowledge or examples of what will happen if they distribute content without seeking to inhibit technology, because they have not done it yet. There are no empirical studies indicating the advantages, disadvantages, challenges and risks of operating in the modern world, because there are no cases to be studied. Instead, the leading licensed access-content-controllers (copyright owners) continue to operate within a fraction of the scope of technology that their peers (the rest of humanity) operate in.

So what progress points do we deserve so far?

We make use of only a fraction of what this technology has to offer by requiring people to access content from a central source. We still perpetuate higher costs, inefficiency and inconvenience by seeking to prevent end users from offsetting the burden of distributing content. But, because licensed content controllers have at least begun to use the technology called the internet for distribution, I think we/humanity deserve a small positive point toward the progress meter. *Human progress is like a slug. It’s fairly slow. First the head moves forward. Then the body. Then the ass end. xD*

Progress Points | -2

Enter the Torrent

Edging closer to modern day, those of us already arrived at this zero point awareness of potential progress, are not amused by those of us who are limiting themselves to what was possible 20 years ago. So, these of us growing impatient while waiting for our rights holding brethren to recognize this zero point decide to create a more decentralized, more efficient means of content sharing. More people than ever begin sharing content amidst the lack of coevally-correct technological sentiments from the rights holders.

*O hai! This is the voice behind this post again. I don’t know if “coeval correctness” even makes sense, but in this age of rapid discovery, we humans definitely need a phrase that calls for the assessment and implementation of modern technology. Discovering technology is one thing. Being able to apply it for our benefit seems like a field of study in and of it’s self. So, until an English major comes along and offers something better, coeval correctness it is. Now where were we…*

The Inception of Modern Commercial Distribution

Because of this bold exploration of the possibilities made available by this new technology, it becomes more apparent as time passes that sharing shows indications of improving content sales. Although it continues to be assumed by major rights holders that sharing inevitably means a loss of sale, a few real-world indications of how file-sharing affects the market are now appearing where the full scope of distribution technology is being implemented.

A few artists begin to experiment with introducing their content to free data networks. A couple of notable examples are Paulo Coelho and Trent Reznor. Writer and a musician, respectively. In an interview Reznor states that about eighteen percent of downloads of various albums featured at this torrent tracker were converted to sales (I can’t find the interview atm, but I’m certain about this so I hope my memory does not fail).

From the minimal amount of reading I’ve done on marketing, this response is about eighteen times the response one would expect from most conventional advertising methods (about one out of one hundred, if I’m not mistaken). This is hardly conclusive, but it is precisely the type of real world data that is needed if the creative content industry wishes to learn how to operate in the modern world.

The Little Engine that isn’t Quite Read to Try Just Yet

Alas, we return to the present where we can see a progress-snapshot of where the leaders in the content distribution/data-access-gatekeeper industry appear to be by taking a look at the latest Kindle announcement.

*In case you haven’t notice, I really would like to see the creative content industry understood more accurately as one which provides access to data. This is all they have ever done and new technology has not changed this fact. Consumers do not pay artists to create. They pay to access the creation. For example, John Lennon is long dead, yet access to his music can still be purchased or a torrent could be downloaded at The Pirate Bay. Either way, it is a simple, yet very significant distinction if one is to consider it as a foundation to build a modern business around.*

Our corporate cousins who run Kindle appear to have taken notice that sharing may prove to be a great way to increase sales. After all, marketing experts have preached the value of word of mouth as an advertising resource since long before the internet was prevalent. So, Amazon has decided to lift just a little bit of the limitations they initially put on sharing the e-books they sell access to.

*This actually requires a lot of work. To limit data from being copied is work (and it still fails most of the time). To try to partially limit data to being copied a little bit requires a whole new set of complex functions to be added.*

Kindle users will be able to let one other person copy the e-book data to their Kindle for up to 14 days. During the 14 days, the original purchaser is unable to access the data until either the person the data was “loaned” to reconnects with the original purchaser to reactivate the purchaser’s access to the data. Yes, the data actually remains on the Kindle of the original purchaser with an intentional obstruction to user access. After 14 days have passed the “loan” automatically expires and the original user can view it again. Users are limited to sharing at a 1:1 ratio. After that, they can not let anyone copy the e-book (aka loan it out again).

Are you confused? You’re more than welcome to your confusion.

A copy is a simple process: A copies to B.

A Kindle copy, however, has been made into an unreasonably complex farce: A copies to B. Then A blocks it’s own access to content.Then B blocks it’s own access after 14 days and A unblocks it’s previous block on it’s self to access the content.

OK. So they have slightly loosened the reigns on users sharing their content. While maintaining strict control over user sharing, they have limited the user’s ability to share at a rate of no more than one person per original purchaser.

The observational advantage here is that they control the number of possible shares and can potentially use this data to estimate it’s affect on sales. The disadvantage is that they are still observing an unrealistic environment where they attempt to control the user’s ability to share. The data gained from this “loan” experiment may not be reasonably applied to operating in the world of modern technology where users can, and currently do,  share copyrighted content without restriction.

Still, I take this as an example of a very mainstream content distributor making a small effort toward allowing users to share content, so I will, somewhat, reluctantly add another point to our over all progress.

Progress Points | -1

A Debt of Progress

You may notice that I still show a negative debt in progress points. Which, granted, is using a scoring system I just made up based on my own criteria for progress, but I hope that makes it easier to share and be understood.

The collective creative content industry remains at least a step away from operating in the zero point area where real progress and innovation can be explored. They’ve always been only one step away.

Although there is honorable mention of a few content creators and creative rights holders experimenting with the free sharing approach, a majority of the industry still possesses no applied experience in this area. As long as they operate in the negative zone, they are not gaining experience which is crucial for competing today. It is difficult to expect anything beyond eventual failure from companies that simply do not wish to or are too frightened by technology to participate in today’s world.

We are in a strange and amazing era of content distribution where many consumers now have more real world experience in content distribution than the person or group that holds the rights to the very content we distribute! We have a very significant sector of the present day economy with no experience in operating as a distributor within the dynamics of a world where distribution capabilities are abundant. That’s over 18 million jobs and 40% of the United states attributed economic growth being threatened with failure if the intellectual “property” industry fails to accept and begin seeking a strategy for operating under modern circumstances (those numbers according to US Chamber of Commerce).

The only way to gain such experience is through application. The only way to learn how to operate in such a world is to pull up your boot straps and do it. First comes the experiment, then come the results.

We all want answers to these questions, but we simply will not have answers until we move past the hypothetical questioning and into the realm of experimentation. Question > experiment > observe > adapt > rinse > repeat. The future is inevitable. Time will not wait. Humanity will not wait. Those who fail to adapt will be left in the past. Those who adapt will thrive.

Fortunately, those of us in the industry can only lag so far behind before they are left behind altogether. By “those of us” I mean, simply, humans. Our least common denominator, if you will. There is a buffer between the vanguards of society and those who trail along at the tail end of human progress. As those in the front move forward, those at the opposite end must move forward from where they are as well. That is, if they wish to remain relevant to the median.

More Fact, Less Fiction

It is only after being tested through application that any person is able to make any kind of statement beyond conjecture, or hypothesis at best, on the matter of file-sharing and marketing. While we are still moving toward finding conclusive solutions surrounding the distribution of creative content which will benefit all aspects of society (including the content rights holders), we are able to observe, gather data, examine faults or mistakes, and ultimately, adapt until we find a way to operate in the modern world. Again, I stress that such observations and studies are possible only after we have real cases to study.

If there is one recurring theme that I hope you take with you after reading this, it is that copyright organizations, trusts, major content distributors and even content creators are currently suffering from a severe lack of experience in surviving as a busker or otherwise creative type in today’s world. We lack the ability to make any accurate claims  one way or the other as to a loss or increase of sales in relation to data being freely accessible. We lack the opportunity to make calculated decisions based in real-world application.

Most copryright owners have never experimented with making data freely accessible. They have never given users incentive to share the burden of distribution. They have never made an attempt to compete with free content distribution among the public by offering quality, speed, seeding, security, user-friendly interfaces, operation cost reduction, less environmental impact, a larger library of available content, etc.

Avast Ye, Sucka! Uncharted Waters

Meanwhile, the average file-sharing “pirate” probably has a better grasp of modern capabilities available for distributing/accessing content. Does file-sharing help or hurt the industry?

That’s really none of our business. We’re not interested in the profits. We have no personal stake in your business. If you fail, it’s you and your family who go hungry or have to settle for a smaller mansion. Either way, we are here to stay. You are welcome to accept this challenge of offering competition to what we have offered for free for a decade or two. Nobody owes a busker. Sink or swim, matey! LOLOLOLOLOL

Thoughts From the Murky Depths to Your Face

Ultimately, the broader message here is that humanity must keep pace with it’s technological progress if we expect to see either of the two continue to develop. The entire way of human life depends on creating and copying. That’s how it is.

Updates:

Here is a great example of what I’ve been going on about.

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