Artists Should Not Work For Free

i_am_an_artist

Just Cause Its Free To Deliver Doesn’t Mean It Should Be Free, Period.

Spotify’s latest move to make all of its services free (since they raised a quarter billion dollars) is just the latest strike against paying for content.

For a while now the perceived price of content has been under fire.

The source of this probably came about during the late 60′s with Stewart Brand‘s infamous comment:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Note the part that stuck: “information wants to be free“. Ugh. But also notice that in the next sentence, he talks specifically about distribution.

While Brand was referring to the cost of distributing the information – the meaning of this has been stretched and pulled like taffy over time to extend over to the cost of the entire creation of “information”. And since this quote – all kinds of content have morphed from physical media – LPs, CDs – VHS tapes, DVDs, printed books, magazines – to information. So, its true – while the cost of distributing the information has approached zero, only in some of these areas has the cost of creation actually dropped.

For example, it used to require musicians for an artist to record, mix and release tracks of music. Recording studio space had to be secured, costs were high, as was the barrier to entry. But nowadays, free and low cost software can turn anyone into the next Skrillex (well not anyone, you need to still have the talent). In that industry the costs of creating the media have dropped, as in film. The technology required to make an independent film has dropped precipitously, so as above, anyone with a little talent and a smartphone can create a compelling vision. Not so much for writing though. The craft of writing really hasn’t changed all that much – sure the tools have gotten more sophisticated, but unless someone has created some kind of automatic writing engine which just takes concepts and spits out stories (I’d pay real money for that one), that mostly requires butt-in-seat time.

In all of this content creation – we may have shaved down the cost of the recording and distribution – but the time – and time IS a cost – and skill of the artist required to produce quality work – have remained the same. The skill to write a good story, to take a great picture, to produce an awesome track, to move people emotionally with film – those things have great value. It is my assertion that that value is being whittled away, bit by bit, by the audience – who just look at the recording and distribution costs nearing zero, as a reason that the entire cost of the object, including the time and skill the artist put into creating the work also should be zero.

When these things were physical objects, people gladly paid for them. For some reason, now that they are information – people want them to be free. We can lay the blame for this cheapening at the feet of many places – the distaste of people for what they perceive are the excesses of capitalism, the wrecking of the concept of a free market by places and services like Fiverr and iTunes, the open source and shareware/freeware software movements (on the one hand, the unfettered exchange of software is a great thing – but on the other hand, there are thousands of programmers out there, who, slave like, code for no compensation. And when people get used to you producing something for nothing, then why pay something when you get something for nothing?)

How do Fiverr and iTunes wreck a market? In a true free market, (like eBay, which is not perfect but closer to a free market) prices are set by an agreement between buyer and seller – they agree to a price where both the buyer and the seller walk away pleased with the deal – the buyer getting fair value for their money and the seller getting fair value for the time that they put into creating the product. Even fixed price markets, like Etsy, allow a seller to set a price – and there is even room for some negotiation. Places like Fiverr, where every service is one price, perverts this beautiful process, by forcing every product, content and service from shooting a video, or recording an audio track, to writing a blog post or a short story, to a single price. This sets the value ahead of time – no matter how much effort the seller does or does not put into the creation of the content, the price is the same. And in order to provide good value to the buyers, the sellers typically over deliver. Expectations are incredibly high, and the review and rating mechanisms are overly harsh to the sellers.

Since often these marketplaces often feature one of a kind created physical items, even those items are tarred by the same brush – even physical item prices – original works created by artists – suffer the same fate.

The artists are constantly getting screwed down. Probably partially based on the mistaken belief of the buyers that the full “costs” (as opposed to just the recording and distribution costs) to create a musical track, a video, or a book, or a photo, get lower and lower, the “price” a buyer should pay should also get lower and lower. Eventually, buyers will expect all content to be near zero – or even free.

There’s been a recent meme floating around the internet from a photographer, tired of his customers expecting him to work for very little or free, wrote and posted an ad on Craigslist asking for people to work for him for free, since everyone expects him to work for free – or very little:

Titled “Pro Photographer Looking for People to Do Their Job Without Pay,” the photographer decides it’s turnabout time. “I am a photographer,” the shooter writes, “and since people are always looking for free shoots I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services, for free.”

“I am looking to hire all types of people to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything,” he continues. “Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do.”

I know a number of photographers, writers, videographers and musicians who are seeing it too – although the time and skill to create quality content has not changed, the price expectations has truly plummeted, to the point where one can no longer support oneself creating content, unless it’s a physical object. Only physical objects seem to hold more value, and the market which prefers physical objects is getting smaller and smaller.

What is the future path for content creators? Do they go down the path of open source developers and give their content (source code) away for free, only to make up the money in other ways (training and documentation)? I’ve read plenty of articles about how bands can’t make a penny on selling music, but make up their money in concerts and sales of physical goods. But what about writers and others? Even now, a book making its way up the charts Write, Publish, Repeat, is advocating giving away your first books for free, in order to satiate an audience that wants everything for nothing. I’m not sure that simply bowing to that pressure is the right way to go – which is why when I published my first fiction book, I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable amount, which would pay for my time and skill in creating the book.

In 2007, I filed for a patent on an idea to create a true media marketplace, where content creators and content purchasers could reach a fair price on the cost of the content – pleasing both the buyer and the seller. Since then, we’ve culturally forced down the cost of content to the point where a system like that might never allow the content creators to receive full and proper value for their time and skill.

There may be some solution for content creators in a crowdsourced environment, where some kind of bidding system would allow both the creators and the buyers the ability to reach a reasonable price for content – allowing the content creators to continue to do what they do best – create quality content – and give the buyers better content at a reasonable price.

We simply need to bring a true market back to content, and stop pushing the price near zero. We have to reassert the value in the time and skill required to take that beautiful picture, write that moving story or lay down that groove. Like never before, we have the technology and the networks in place to create a true free market for artists. Who will take the first step?

Video Games Teach Problem Solving Skills

playing-video-gamesOne of the things I personally believe in incredibly important, a skill that everyone should have and cultivate, above all others, is the skill to problem solve.

Sure, public speaking is important. So is Language Arts, Math, Science etc. But if you ask me, once you have problem solving skills, then everything else falls out of that.
Here’s an example: a number of years ago, I hired an intern to work on our IT dept at the company I was working at. The guys resume looked great, he had a certification in the type of network software we were using, and his credentials looked awesome. We interviewed him and he seemed to know his stuff. So we hired him and brought him in to work.

The very first task I gave him to do was to setup some computers, some of which had some issues. Judging by this guys educational credentials and experience, I figured that he would have all the work done in a few hours. A few hours later, I come back and find that he got completely stuck working on the first computer. So I sat with him and went over things with him. Left, then a few hours later came back. He had not moved on at all.

Eventually, as I watched him work, I realized that while he knew some things, and he followed instructions well, that the moment he ran into a snag, he got completely stuck. He had no way to get past the issue which he had come across. I realized that the thing this guy lacked was “problem solving skills” – the ability to figure out a solution to a problem that he came across. I realized that this was a skill that you can learn, and this guy, for all his credentials, didn’t have that.

A year later, I hired another guy. No credentials whatsoever, but he had kick-ass problem solving skills. Even if he knew nothing about anything you set anything in front of him, he was able to figure it out, learn in the process, then solve more problems. That’s when I realized, the core of everything, the core of all learning actually, is having problem solving skills. When you have good problem solving skills, nothing can faze you, since everything that comes at you is something you can figure out, whether it’s driving, building a business, learning a new language, or making the country better.

In the past, kids learned problem solving skills in school or in real life: you were given problems in school, or in real life, and were expected to figure them out. Nowadays, the answers are fed to the students, and there are virtually no life lessons given.

I was a latecomer to video gaming: I had an old Nintendo Entertainment System in the garage, and only got back into it in 2002, with a Christmas purchase of a GameCube by my mom for my kids.

Video games had really moved on from the side scrolling shooting and sword play of Zelda. One of the games that came with the system was called Star Fox Adventures, an adventure style game, very visually beautiful, sort of in the vein of Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time, a game I had skipped over since I dropped out of video gaming for a while.

However, I noticed something very interesting while I or my kids were playing this game: there were a ton of puzzles thrown into the mix along with the bashing and shooting. We worked together to solve each problem on the screen, moving blocks around etc. In the process I noticed that my kids were actually developing problem solving skills VIA playing the video game. And not only were they developing this skill, which I feel is the uber skill above all others, that they were having a great time doing it.

Contrast that to the dull instruction both adults and kids get learning nowadays.

Dude, where are our kids going to learn to solve problems, except for here?

In The Land Of Premium Ice Cream Sandwiches

250px-IceCreamSandwichThe other day, we were driving through downtown Palo Alto and I saw a really long line for some place called CREAM, so I asked my wife what it was. Since she’s more hip to what the buzz is when it comes to restaurants, she told me they were “ice cream sandwiches”. I immediately thought of the old Nestlé Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches we used to eat when we were kids.

So I said “Wow. People are lining up like that for ice cream sandwiches? How can any business NOT survive around here if people are going nuts over mere ice cream sandwiches”

Of course I found out later that they were “gourmet” ice cream sandwiches, made to order with your choice of fresh baked cookies and your choice of ice cream, and were only $2.50 to boot. Still I thought: why the insanity over ice cream sandwiches, and of course the same nuttiness over cronuts in other places?

HYPE, of course. There’s nothing really special about these ice cream sandwiches, just read the reviews on Yelp if you want more insight. No, if you think about it, its all about this new wave of nostalgic products breaking over the bough. In case your wondering, here are the keys:

  1. The product has been around for ages
  2. The product is considered a comfort food
  3. The product is given a new modern/hipster/green/fresh/organic (pick one or more – more is better) twist

The same can be said of The Melt, which is basically a place which serves the same kind of comfort food that we all ate when we were kids – namely grilled cheese and tomato soup, with the number 3 treatment above.

I see a pattern here. What other comfort food can we dig up from the past, twist and make a killing at?

  • Pillsbury Bake-off Foods
  • Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • Oven Fried Chicken with cereal crumb topping
  • TV Dinners
  • Root Beer Floats
  • French Bread Pizza
  • Creamed Tuna On Toast, Beans on Toast, hell anything savory on toast
  • Anything in a Crock Pot (how about a whole restaurant with ONLY Crock Pot recipes)
  • Kool-Aid
  • Fondue Pots
  • Chicken Pot Pie
  • Tang
  • Shake & Bake
  • Shake-a-Pudding
  • Hamburger Helper
  • Meatballs in Grape Jelly
  • Pudding Pops
  • Cheezwiz
  • Mallow
  • McRib
  • Pizza Bagels
  • Hawaiian Pizza
  • Anything with sun dried tomatoes!

And hey – if you do come up with something, let me in on the action…. ;)

Don’t Just Consume, Create!

create

I’ve been having a long, back and forth discussion on “whats wrong with the youth of today” with various folks of my, somewhat advanced age group, and I think I’ve come to a few conclusions:

  1. We are probably saying the same things about “the youth” that our parents said about us
  2. The divide is not between the young and the old, its between those who consume or create
  3. It’s never been easier to create, so why don’t more people do it?

I’ve heard many laments about the employment situation as well – both young and old are having trouble getting jobs. They spend endless hours looking for work, and then spend other endless hours watching YouTube videos and playing video games. Pretty soon, as time goes on, less time is spent looking for work and more time is spent on entertainment. Eventually, entropy and human laziness being what it is, most people fall into the consumption trap. They spend all of their time consuming, and none of their time creating.

A few nights ago, I was talking with one of my sons about his career path. He’s always said that he wanted to develop video games. So I set him up with Unity and he cranked out an app called Birdhouse Mania (with some help) and it is now sitting in the app store, where its racked up a grand total of 6 sales. Better than zero, right? Prior to this, he would spend all of his spare time endlessly playing video games or watching YouTube videos, when he could have been cranking out more games. He was consumed by consumption, not creation. Of course, creation is much harder than consumption, so he’s back to his old ways, but I’m pushing him to create more.

One of my other sons chose music as his major, only after a lot of hand wringing and major swapping. He had trouble figuring out how to actually make a living at it so he first tried chemistry, then math, and finally realized (after lots of pushing from my wife and I) that he should major in music, since that’s where his talent lay. But how to make money at it? Create, not consume!

In my experience, no matter what you are interested in, if your interest only ever drives you to consume things created by others in that interest, then you will never make any money from your interest. Consumption doesn’t pay. However, creation DOES pay. It pays directly in some ways, and indirectly in others.

My music major son listens to and plays a lot of music, but never records it. I’ve encouraged him to start a blog, post stuff, video or audio record himself playing, join social networks, interact with others. Create some content featuring his talents, that might lead to money. He talked about a pianist in Russia who charged $470 a year for access to her library of videos, and the ability to send her questions and have her post new videos answering those questions with techniques to solve the issues asked about. Not only does she make money from the subscriptions, but she also creates more content for her library. Its a win/win – for her and for her students. Creation pays. So I suggested that he do something similar, he said it was too much work, and went back to his studies.

But I digress. My point is that if you have an interest, don’t spend all of your time consuming content on that interest. There may have been a time in the past, prior to the internet, were it was near impossible to create monetizable content from your interests, now its completely doable. Difficult, but still doable.

So to all of those out there who are unemployed looking for their next opportunity, whether you are a high schooler, a newly minted college graduate, or an industry veteran finding yourself between jobs – now is the time to put this time to good use and start creating. Set up a blog, on Tumblr or WordPress. Spend time blogging about the stuff you are interested in. If you want to learn to code, just do it. If you want to learn how to write video games, just do it. Spend some time, between job searching, creating, blogging, recording videos or podcasts. Get as much content out there as you can, while you can.

The more content you generate, the more content will get out there, the more chances that someone who can give you that leg up will see that content. Or if you are even luckier, you can just live off of the content you generate, via adsense income, affiliate links or whatever.

The point is – time in creation is much more valuable than time spend in consumption. And nothing is stopping you from creating, right now. So go create!

Hunger Games And Technological Progress

Hunger Games And Technological Progress

IMHO, the Hunger Games portrays a completely plausible future – as today – and still as per William Gibson’s famous quote – the future is already here, just unevenly distributed.

In the Hunger Games, the future has come and gone, with the technologies which support state oppression far advanced, and evenly distributed while others which could help those who would rebel against the state, non-existent, likely banned out of existence or only allowed for the tiniest elite.

As far as I’m concerned this is reasonable – technologies the internet do not exist in the Hunger Games because the state has banned their use – we see the seeds of this banning even today in acts like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. There is nothing more dangerous to a state that free speech.

The only technologies which are portrayed in the film are the technologies of oppression, everything else – all technologies which could be used to overthrow the totalitarian regime of the Capitol, including any kind of ability for the people of the Districts to communicate with each other, have been outlawed.

 

Tomorrows world of “The Hunger Games” doesnt just showcase the reality TV spectacle of teenagers battling to the death — it also features futuristic hovercraft, force fields and bioengineered “Mutt” creatures. Those technological marvels represent tools of oppression for the dystopian nation of Panem, where the Capitol elite live in high-tech luxury supported by the old-fashioned sweat of district coal miners, farm hands and factory workers.

via Hunger Games Exposes Myth of Technological Progress | Hunger Games Technologies | Innovationnewsdaily.com.

Tron: Legacy

I saw Tron: Legacy last weekend with my sons and I really, really wanted to like it I loved the visuals and I can’t get enough of the music Daft Punk Rulez!

For some reason, I can’t stop thinking that the music and the visuals could have done such a better job if the story and characters weren’t so lame

Unlike after Avatar, where I thought the story and the characters WERE lame, and the story basically pushed all sorts of progressive liberal propaganda down our gullets, this ones story was just lame. It just seemed that there were two many elements brought in, too many bits unexplained. Even if you saw the first movie, which we did, there were still some head scratchers in there.

IMHO, there were just too many “What the hell just happened?” moments. I afterwards read up on the internet that to really understand what happened, you needed to play the tie-in game and read the tie-in graphic novel in order to “get it”. This is kinda what happened with Matrix movies #2 and #3, which is pretty annoying if you ask me. I mean why can’t movies be fully fleshed out anymore? For the hundreds of millions of dollars this cost, you’d think they could piece together a storyline which works?

I guess that’s the danger of having too many scriptwriters. Once you have more than 2 I think that’s where things go awry.

There was much good stuff in there to be mined:

  1. the whole open source vs paid software space
  2. the effects of building software which seeks perfection
  3. ethnic cleansing
  4. spontaneous manifestation of intelligent life
  5. a father reconnecting with his son
  6. a son seeking the guidance of a father

But all of these threads were never fully explored. And right now this is probably the 10th time I’ve listened to the score from this movie, which is so much more epic than the movie. Maybe in my mind, the movie was more epic than it was. I mean when you spend that much money on a movie, can’t you at least make it make sense?

Apple Bans ‘Sexy Apps’

Apples-Sexy-Apps

Apples-Sexy-AppsSomething I’ve said for a while: Steve Jobs is as much a tyrant as Barack Obama or George Bush. What he says goes: free speech suffers. And yes, sexy apps and porn ARE free speech, no matter how much you may not like them!

Why Apple’s New Ban Against Sexy Apps Is Scary.

Apple Creates ST:TNG PADD?

star-trek-padd-replica-01Just wait until the tablet is launched. Anyone remember the Newton? Great example of being too early. Question is: if the tablet is just a bigger iPhone, who really needs it? Me, of course. The Apple Tablet is simply the PADD from Star Trek: Next Generation come to life. I NEED that ;)

Apple's holiday quarter was especially sweet thanks to strong iPhone and Macintosh computer sales, sending shares higher Tuesday.

via My Way News – Apple rockets to most profitable quarter ever.

Star Trek Online: First Impressions

ksAs a total and complete trekkie – yes, I remember watching TOS way back when I was a kid, I was pretty excited to hear that there was a MMO set in the Star Trek universe in the works. Having watched every series – and yes I include the animated series as well – remember when Uhura ran the ship? – including Enterprise (yes, I know), I thought, how could they possibly keep to the mythos of Star Trek in an MMO.

Well I have to say that its pretty good – it works. From what little I’ve seen of it, its pretty cool, from both the ship battle and away team views. The tutorial puts you through both situations.

  1. First you build your character. Nothing new here, just like Warcraft or any other MMO, except you do have a choice of races and you can create your own, but most of them are still humanoid
  2. Then you name him/her and your ship
  3. Then you are thrust into a few missions, first beaming over to a ship attacked by the Borg, then a ship battle or two, then a rescue mission, then another ship battle, then you are promoted and then its on to free play

I’d say that the graphics are pretty good, having played on two systems, one better powered than the other. The slower system was still playable, but some of the resolution suffered. Still early days yet, not ready to plonk down for a monthly fee, but theres still 2 weeks in the beta for me to make that decision.

Oh boy does it have bugs though. First, really tough to log in, get kicked out at the login  and character creation a lot over and over – they say on the news that they are working to add new servers etc but I mean really, they should have realized that with a franchise like Star Trek that they would have huge demand.

Star Trek Online is produced by the same group that did City of Heroes, while a decent MMO, does not have the draw of this one. They should have taken their server estimates and increased them by at least one order of magnitude.

Funniest bug: sometimes, your ship appears where you should be, and you appear where your ship should be. So there you are, walking around deep space, or a mini version of your ship appears in the mess hall, tooling around on thrusters. It rights itself eventually, but its pretty funny while you are seeing it happen.

More to come…

5 Ideas I Came Up With In The Shower

A colleague of mine said the other day – not jokingly – that he comes up with 5 new ideas every day while in the shower – so i thought: I can do that: Here’s today 5 new ideas:

  1. Weight Loss Idea 1 – a scale which never shows an increase in weight. Normally, when you step on a scale, it will report your current weight. For those who are on a diet, seeing that weight go back up – even if its a normal fluxuation,  will get very discouraged and possibly stop dieting. This scale checks your current weight against your last recorded weight and simply shows the lower figure.
  2. Weight Loss idea 2 – a scale like the above, but which reports a lower weight every week, whether you lose weight, gain weight, or stay the same. This scale will decrement your reported weight by .5 of a pound, or whatever you lost since last time. Again, showing progress keeps the dieter on track
  3. A Sugar Burger: take two things which taste great and put them together. Take a hamburger and coat with brown sugar, then pan fry in butter
  4. An unhealthy vegan burger – but one that tastes awesome. Why do all vegan things have to taste bad and/or be healthy for you. Why not a Vegan Sugar Burger!?
  5. A conditioner exuding hairbrush. Hair in a knot? Hard to style? This hairbrush has leave-in conditioner inside it, and can release it into your hair at the press of a button.

What do you think? Good ideas? ;)