Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Your Own Internet (Part Two)

As quite a bit of time has passed from when I first posted Part One I have come across quite a few examples of well structured business models taking advantage of digital media's power in direct networking.  I would like to think that my post was perfectly timed but in reality these types of examples are always occurring.  I just pay closer attention now.

I am returning to this issue again (and will a third time), because I firmly believe that the influence of technology on the business of art is still yet to happen.  Simply attributing it to the auction market being open online or the influence of technology on art installations is horribly short sighted.  A real change is going to start with something completely shaking the foundation of the art business, leaving everyone questioning the sustainability of its future.  Since we have yet to see the collapse of the major auction houses, much in the way we are witnessing the collapse of the major box retail stores (i.e. Tower Records, Virgin Records, Borders, etc) I am assuming it has yet to happen.  It will, and it will more than likely eliminate other middle men as well, decimating the value of contemporary museums and galleries, which, in all practicality, the idea of a "contemporary" museum feels a little like an oxymoron.  What use is a museum to preserve something that hasn't even proven it's relevance against the test of time?*

Regardless, my only regret is that I didn't jump on the second part of this post sooner.  I always felt that the business of the tech world stands as progenitor to the business of the art world.  Between Apple Inc. and major U.S. book publishers being accused of price fixing eBooks**, the battle against the Stop Online Piracy Act and it's many iterations, and the constant fight for Net Neutrality, I have actually been following the tech world more closely.  Understandably, this seems to be the only industry where adaption over repulsion is the standard and any instance of a different industry using this method as well seems to be taking advantage of the tech worlds tools to reach their goals.

This first example I saw this executed remarkably well was when comedian Louis CK self released his Live at the Beacon Theatre performance through his own website.  The basic idea didn't seem to be anything remarkable, but the details in which he executed his plan made all the difference:

--$5 to download
--Quick and easy to pay
--No Digital Rights Management (DRM)***
--Mailing list subscription set to "No" by default

These all seem like minor details but they are near revolutionary in regards to the respect and faith they put in his fan base. In fighting online piracy major labels and publishers had forgotten the basic rules to effective retail: cheap, fast, and quality.  When Louis CK was asked why he didn't include and DRM restrictions on his downloads he simply responded:

"I see it as a sign of quality.  If you buy a really nice toaster it isn't going to come with a huge lock on it."

The simplicity of his thinking seems anything but revolutionary, but his sales told a different story.  Within a week he had made over a million dollars, posting a photo of his Paypal account online.  His business model only became that much more profound when he decided that he was going to divide the proceeds into quarter shares:  one part going to himself, one part covering production expenses, one part going to his staff as bonuses, and the last part going to charity (can you name any other for profit business that donated a quarter of its revenue to charity?).  When addressing this decision he stated, "This is crazy.  I've never had this much money before...I don't need this much money" and noting in his act, "I don't view money as MY money.  I just see it as THE money."  It would be easy to imagine titans of industry arguing this as a somewhat communistic viewpoint.  I feel it is quite the opposite, seeing revenue as a means for growth as opposed to the hoard.  This model soon paved the way for other comedians to follow in his footsteps, being successfully executed by Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari soon after.

Though a torrent-link to a pirated copy of Louis CK's show appeared on The Pirate Bay website soon after, even the uploader atndigcrk seemed to share some sense of conflict, stating:

Yea its the new one yea i kinda feel bad putting it here but people like louis ck gotta realize without torrents and the net he wouldnt be anywhere bc honestly louis i know ur here and i know u mite be mad at me but u gotta realize not everyone has paypal , not eveyone has credit cards, some people use net lounges, some have barely money for food, art = comedy should be shared with the mass , and Believe me u can judge the popularity more from the torrent downloads then the paypal sales, also if people like it , its easier to buy on there ipad/ipod or personal/work computers...more buzz = more sales

Hope you understand louie

Though his logic borders more on self-fulfilling idealism than practicality, it is one of the few times someone, who so strictly abides by their beliefs in piracy, had so openly struggled coming to terms with their actions, given the accessibility and low price of the content.  This conflict was only heightened by a note from CK on his website's download page:

To those who might wish to "torrent" these shows:

Look, I don't really get the whole "torrent" thing. I don't know enough about it to judge either way. But I'd just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without "corporate" restrictions.

Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the show, and let other people find it in the same way.

Louis C.K

It's a very straight forward request and provides very little room to rationalizing around it.  In this instance, regardless of the price, art is a luxury item, making the argument of its necessity being important enough to steal a hard one to justify.  No one's life is being saved by comedy, so the charitable aspect of viewing the content probably does not outweigh the value of the $250,000 paid directly to charitable organizations earned from paying customers.

The promotional aspect of The Pirate Bay may be debatable.  Though most people who pirate software regularly will not be swayed by CK's note, it was a direct issue that had to be addressed.  In the end, the file will still be torrented by them, but CK is still respected in that he addressed the pirates as people acting selfishly and not criminals.  Support from that portion of the internet can go a long way in your content going viral online and insuring that you stay on the good side of the pirating community****, even if your beliefs and politics toward digital distribution do not sync*****.

It is the savvy creators that know piracy will always remain one step ahead and can therefore use it as a beacon to stay on top of new means for distributing their product.  For example, as I write this sentence consumer grade 3D printers are hitting the market.  Months before these products were ready for sale The Pirate Bay devoted a section of their website for users to upload links to 3D printing torrent files.  Someday soon, someone out there is going to steal a pair of shoes by printing them out at home, an issue that has more than likely never been addressed in a Nike corporate office.

*  It's a trick question, a contemporary museum isn't used to preserve history.  It's used to inflate the market value of the artwork donated by collectors, some of them even on the board of directors of the museum themselves
**This was becoming obvious when consumers were noticing that their eBooks, which require almost no overhead to publish, were often being priced more expensive than their paperback versions.
***DRM refers to different restrictions enabled on digital content to help "prevent" privacy.  This may include restrictions on the number of downloads or installs on a particular machine, special file formats that can only be read by the software the company provides, streaming only as opposed to downloading, etc.  Though implemented by most major companies many consumers feel that these guidelines tend to hurt the customers legally buying the software as opposed to the ones stealing it, who tend to just find new ways to steal the product while the actual customers find the install restrictions becoming increasing limited.  Here was a great letter written to Chris Dodd by an open source founder and some more insightful thoughts on eBook DRM and
****A good example of this argument is the price Sony paid when they tried to sue George "geohot" Hotz for hacking the Playstation 3.  A mistake that cost them tens of millions of dollars when they were subsequently hacked and millions of their user's account information was dumped online.  Exposing their lack of security and devastated their name among the gaming world.  This also all happened as the gaming console era shows a questionable future, putting Sony in a uneasy position it has still yet to recover from.
*****There are actual Pirate political parties around the world.  Their book No Safe Harbour is a selection of essays that addresses their supported ideas and beliefs.  You can find it here  These ideas are beginning to be being openly promoted by many artists as well

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