The Adams Theory of Content Value: As our ability to search for media content improves, the economic value of that content will approach zero.

I heard someplace, albeit unreliably, that 90% of all music that people own for personal use is stolen. Let's agree that the real figure is some large number, if not 90%. And you can already obtain every top-selling book, TV show, and movie on the Internet for free, assuming you don't mind mixing your shopping with your copyright crime sprees. Newspapers, magazines, and comics such as Dilbert have been freely available on the Internet for years.

At the moment, plenty of people still pay for media content. Those reasons will evaporate. Let's consider books. Most people still prefer old-timey tree-based books, but the Kindle and other ebook readers are eating into that preference quickly. I haven't yet heard of anyone buying a Kindle and later returning to a preference for regular paper books. It appears to be a one way ride. The Kindle, and similar devices, are designed for buying legal copies of books, which is a doomed attempt to forestall the inevitability of all media content becoming free.

Now comes the iPad, which is destined to become primarily a criminal tool, and it will cause a change in society the same way that widespread illegal boozing caused a change in Prohibition laws. I'm not saying the changes will be bad, just inevitable.

The iPad has a browsing capability that allows you to see any content on the Internet, legal or not, and consume it from just about anywhere. Once you have an iPad, the only reasons to ever buy physical books, magazines, or newspapers will be:
  1. You might want to read outdoors, where the iPad isn't so good.
  2. You don't want to break the law.
  3. It's still a little bit hard to search for illegal content.
  4. Kindle is cheaper than an iPad.
My guess is that the iPad will someday be easy to read in bright light, perhaps working in concert with your sunglasses of the future. And when Kindle owners begin to factor in the unnecessary cost of books, they will start to see the iPad as a bargain.

Then there's the issue of not wanting to break the law. Every kid understands that stealing is wrong. But ask the average ten-year old about copyright law and watch for the blank stare. Students are taught to freely download copyrighted content from the Internet for school reports, which I understand is legal in the context of education. And at the same time, every school kid is learning from friends that downloading music and movies from the Internet is common practice. Paying for content on the Internet is strictly a generational thing, and it will pass.

Those of you reading this blog are already savvy enough to find and download any content you want for free. But I'll bet the average 40-something user of the Internet still wouldn't know how to search the Internet for criminally free content. At some point, I assume, a Google search for any popular book title will return an illegal source at the top of the page. When that happens, Amazon.com will primarily be selling electronics, household products, and clothes.

I predict that the profession known as "author" will be retired to history in my lifetime, like blacksmith and cowboy. In the future, everyone will be a writer, and some will be better and more prolific than others. But no one will pay to read what anyone else creates. People might someday write entire books - and good ones - for the benefit of their own publicity, such as to promote themselves as consultants, lecturers, or the like. But no one born today is the next multi-best-selling author. That job won't exist.

As an author, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the media content of the future will suck because there will be no true professionals producing it. But I think suckiness is solved by better search capabilities. Somewhere out in the big old world are artists who are more talented than we can imagine, and willing to create content for free, for a variety of reasons. And so, as our ability to search for media content improves, the economic value of that content will approach zero.



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Jun 3, 2010
Someone wrote a book discussing the social and economic impact of a futuristic Star Trek "replicator" technology.

The contrary theory suggests that as we have more and more automated "build-it-yourself technologies" physical objects will become less and less valuable and make intellectual property the only salable thing. With CD burners and DVD burners, the physical value of music and movies are nearly moot. As CNC technology becomes mainstream (we still have a ways to go, of course), more sophisticated objects will lose physical value and be replaced with "pattern value." You won't buy your kids an action figure... you'll download a pattern and have your computer carve it out of wood or plastic and paint it.
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Jun 3, 2010
I know you love copy right.......... but reality say otherwise check this TED video you might change your opinion.

Jun 3, 2010
Ironically, the google ad showing next to this entry for me was for "free music" downloads...
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2010
Both blacksmiths and cowboys still exist, and still earn money.
Jun 2, 2010
I have not bought a iPad or eBook reader yet for one really big reason... Fights. I read the most while flying and until the law about turning electronics off when the plane leaves the gate until the plane is in the air (up to 3hr without a fine) I will continue to read a paper book. The second place I enjoy reading is while on vacation such as at the beach or camping in wooded areas, neither of these places would be a good environment for electronics.
Jun 2, 2010
As long a paper exists, I think people will use it to print books, papers, etc.

The awesome thing about a book is they are really cheap (from an end-user perspective), and fairly indestructible. You can read it, and hand it off to a pal, and if you never get it back, well, if you really want it back, hell- just go buy another.

Technology does not fit that bill entirely.

Drop your bag with your paperback in it? No big.

Drop it with your iPad in it? craaaap!

There's the look and feel of a book, too. the rush I get walking into a book store is an apples-to-oranges comparison of the rush I get walking into, say, Fry's.

I do not think a book will ever lose its place in my life- I'm 40, and I work in tech. My house is packed with tech. And books. Younger people, perhaps, will escape the allure of a real book. We shall see.
Jun 2, 2010
Television represents a form of media which has always been free, and has a powerful economic value. Radio, likewise free, has an economic value. Broadcast media seems to be doomed, eventually, except that many people aren't motivated enought to "plan out" their entertainment the way pre-recorded (and specifically downloaded) media requires. Musicians, generally speaking, make money from live performances and merchandise rather than by selling CDs. Authors will most likely gravitate to story types with a strong chance of being converted to other media (movies / tv).

The iPad, btw, won't be crushing the book. It's too proprietary and too ill-suited to the task. The kindle, nook, or sony e-reader are far more likely to do the job, as they have a display technology that's perfect to replace books, and already hacked. The iPad is just a gimpy, unweildly laptop in comparison.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2010
Hey - What's that crack about blacksmiths? I'll have you know that there are quite a few professional blacksmiths in this country. I'm a hobbyist myself, but personally know dozens in New England alone. Today, blacksmiths are mostly on the artistic side of metalwork. Whenever you see a beautiful wrought-iron railing, that was probably forged by a blacksmith.

So while you won't find a smith in every village, since tools and hardware are all mass produced now, you don't have to travel far to find one to design the gates to your mansion. As long as there are rich people there will always be blacksmiths to create custom metalwork for them.
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Jun 2, 2010
Couldn't think of this before. Finally figured it out. Janis Ian is the singer who caused quite a stir by saying "free is good". In 2002. Before iTunes. http://www.janisian.com/article-internet_debacle.html
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Jun 2, 2010
Baen books has been offering older books online for free - yet the dead tree versions continue to sell. Baen also SELLS books online free of that nasty DRM software junk. You buy the book, you download any or all of several formats not hardlinked to any one device. Refreshingly simple. Baen even remembers you and lets you download your books again.

My point is basic: this is not the first trip down this thought experiment road. Baen books, spearheaded by author Eric Flint, has a free library. Essentially, it is free advertising. Download book one of a series free, get hooked, and you will buy more recent books in the series. Works.

Baen's/Flint's thoughts can be found at http://www.baen.com/library/. Pretty much all the issues are addressed. They have been doing this for almost a decade. Mobipocket is one of the formats, it runs on the blackberry - and I have a small bookshelf with me all the time.
Jun 2, 2010
If you're right about Google bringing us the free content, then this blog is one of your strategic assets in the long-term viability of your career as an author and cartoonist. Maybe it's time to get some of its more glaring technical problems fixed. Nonetheless, thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us lowly readers. I often find myself disagreeing with you somehow, but it's always interesting to see what insight your laser-beam of thought uncovers as it burns thru the garbage heap of ideas floating around.
Jun 2, 2010
Long time skulker, forced to sign up just to say: Kudos on that last point (the realisation that people will create good or even great content for free). A rare case of an (excellent) content creator 'getting it' I suspect.
Jun 2, 2010
As a librarian, I have been reading about and hearing about the death of books for decades. It won't happen in my lifetime. While I agree that e-books will continue to gain market share, they cannot replace all tree-based books. Children's board books, pop-up books and shaped books (books that are not merely rectanglular collections of pages) offer a tactile aspect that cannot be replaced by fancy digital enhancements and will remain an important part of developing children's lives. Alas, they cannot be downloaded, so they will continue to generate their revenue stream throughout my lifetime.

Collectors, and there will always be collectors, will also keep a certain portion of the tree-based publishing world afloat. While their numbers are diminishing, there are still publishers, such as the Aralia Press, who produce books on hand-made paper with hand-set type. Special editions of books made valuable and thus collectible by their limited availability will still exist. One cannot totally discount the tactile enjoyment people get from holding a book and turning a page. Digital copies don't make very good keepsakes or particularly special gifts. Currently, there is no universally accepted format for a digitally archived document, but there are books that have been handed down for generations.

I will, however, concede that video and sound recordings are probably doomed as physical media. Does it matter how the film got to whatever screen you use to watch it or how the sound got to the player? Libraries expanded their services beyond books long before I entered the profession. That expansion into providing video and audio content is coming round to bite us on the wallet. In order to provide legal downloadable audio content, we must subscribe to services like Overdrive--expensive and often complicated systems to allow patrons to listen to legal, DRM-protected materials on their iPhones and such. End user licenses don't allow libraries to burn disks or freely distribute materials without first paying for the rights. And libraries, being government !$%*!$%*! cannot simply break the law, for we are public--easy to find, easy to sue--and poor, so we don't have the ability to just get away with it and fight it out in court.

Please don't make a nasty comment about libraries being a waste of money or that libraries will all shut down in the next decade. Libraries provide a service to a broad spectrum of society. And while some libraries close, many new libraries are still being built. Libraries, like books, shall persevere. Librarians, on the other hand, we are a profession that will probably disappear in my son's lifetime.
Jun 2, 2010
I know it's only a blog but did you do any fact checking first? Recently the MD of DoubleDay was being interviewed on Sydney radio. She said that of those who try the Kindle or another e-book reader, 20% love it, 20% hate it and 60% continue to use both paper books and e-books. This may change in the future but my kids are 10 and still love paper novels. (Though I admit I haven't introduced them to an ebook reader just yet). But she also did say that the ebook readers is putting strong downward pressure on author royalty percentages as the printing costs of a book are a relatively small part of the book overhead these days - there is the talent-finding, the type-setting, the marketing, the editing all still to pay for. The price ppl are prepared to pay may not meet all those overheads, driving ppl to break copyright and driving authors and book publishers into oblivion (which is kind of your conclusion anyway).
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2010
1. Music distributors have been !$%*!$% the lifeblood from artists for decades. Artists will survive, traditional distributors will not, and we will see a new breed of music distributor with a business model that is fairer to artists.

2. A big proportion of blog writers talk !$%*! and aren't worth your time. A big proportion of printed books are wonderfully written, don't require a battery, are just about indestructable, and keep my stomach warm when I have a siesta.

3. Supply and demand. Demand will skyrocket, people will read more. If you don't believe that take a look at music sales when CDs were introduced; it went balistic. Supply will work itself out. It always does.

4. There will always be a demand for good quality words, music, whatever. People will always create, talent will always find a way to distribute.
Jun 2, 2010
Isn't wikipedia a classic example of a peer authored and reviewed content that Scott talks about? I don't know about the bias and 'citations needed' claims but I find wikipedia easy to read, concise and good. Perhaps someone can really point out the pros and cons based on the process of how wikipedia content gets created
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 2, 2010
Don't really know I started paying for my content about when I started making money. I prefer to support those who make things I like so they'll keep doing thought in some cases I've allready aquired it for free. I have no particular need to pay for music as I mostly listen to radio- which I could have done a 100 years ago. I think eBooks will come with donate buttons, and people will pay AFTER they evaluated the content- so good authors will make more bad ones will make less. As supposed to now where I have to shell out on the basis of a pretty picture on the front and a short description written by someone else.
Jun 2, 2010
"I am fully capable of getting all of the free (and illegal) music that I want to get (I may be an old fart, but I can still Google with the best of y'all), but I would prefer to pay for it just to be legal... But, then, I am reasonably well compensated. I suspect I would've done differently if I was in high school and college during the current era...

Heck, I even pay the premium for hard-cover books. What a dinosaur!! "

You sound like me :)

"All those movies coming out eventually make it to free TV for the masses, but the movie makers still get paid. "

That's because it's not actually free.
You pay your cable fees which go in part towards reimbursing the copyright holders.
Then there's the advertising income generated by you watching the advertising surrounding (and sprinkled in) that movie.

So you pay for it, just not directly.

"Another commenter was correct that ebooks are overpriced. The distribution and printing costs are eliminated, so why not that discount for starters?"

At the moment many publishers and distributors are still trying to recover the startup cost of their production lines.
After that, it's simple supply and demand. The price charged is the price the customer is willing to pay, and reflects the real cost of the printed version.
If a publisher sells you a printed book for $40 and the electronic version for $30, they effectively tell you that the cost of printing that book is $10.
Distribution cost is not included in that as it would be covered by the S&H as charged separately on top of the cost of the item in their online store (I now order a lot of books directly from publishers, especially professional material which can be hard to get in a timely fashion if I have to wait for the local bookstore to get copies, sometimes even Amazon is later than ordering it directly from the publisher).
Jun 2, 2010
"As for content: In the same way that most people are willing to pay $1 for a song or an application, I, and I think many others, would be more than happy to pay $1 for a book or a movie. I've noticed however that many of the new/hot titles available for purchase are basically the same price as e-books as paperbacks."

Sadly you're utterly wrong there. The vast majority of people aren't willing to pay for content, they've been raised to expect everything to be free and will violently attack anyone "daring to charge money for what should be free".
I've done tech support for several companies suffering heavily from pirates. The most vitriolic posters on our support forums were self-confessed pirates (or pirates found out by us based on information submitted to them) who demanded we support them after they'd first stolen from us.
The general argument was always that "it's available on the internet so it should be free, and you're required to help me because I own the product".
One of those companies still exists, mainly from the value added sales of boxed versions of their products which include printed manuals.

It's the same with pirated movies, music, and books.
A lot of people will claim to "I will buy it after trying it if I like it" but either they like nothing or they are just liars trying to justify their criminal behaviour (I suspect the latter).
More than a few of these in fact make a decent income from reselling that pirated content, burning CDs and DVDs of those movies and music they download from the net and reselling those through online auction sites, school newspapers, etc.

Once this reaches critical mass (I'm still surprised this hasn't happened yet, apparently the volume of illegal downloads hasn't eaten into the sales of content as much as the industry thinks, has mostly prevented those sales from growing rather than decreasing them) it will become uneconomical to produce content and the entire entertainment industry will die.
At that point there will be no more professional quality music, movies, or books. You'll have to be content with virus riddled pirated versions of old content and the flood of rubbish put on youtube by schoolkids with overinflated egos that think they're Great Artists.

It'll be the death of western culture not through conquest but through suicide.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2010
By the way, the iPad sucks for reading one-handed while holding on for dear life in the Beijing Metro. iTouch/IPhone/Desire/Nexus size is much better size for my needs.

Once someone invents a cheap whole-book-scanner that can OCR a whole book in about the time it takes to rip a CD, then perhaps eBook prices will come down: buy cheap second-hand books and rip them to get the best of both worlds.
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