Archive for February, 2008

Uncommon Businessmodels

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

FreeWith the introduction of internet the traditional business model for spreading information has been challenged. Whereas before the largest part of the efforts and the investments where spent on the distribution side (printing, storing, selling and fulfillment) the internet (aka The Large Copying Machine) has facilitated easy and cheap distribution. Scientific publishers, who traditionally operated in a closed environment where they sold packages of journals and books through an annual license to libraries, are now (often forced by the community) turning their business model upside down. In this model authors are paying for the publication service in exchange for posting in so-called ‘open access‘ journals, where access is free at the point of use (also read Jan Velterop’s blog The Parachute). In this particular case it looks like a suitable business model has been found, as this model takes advantage of the power of the internet and leads to a greater return on investment for authors (visibility) while securing revenues for the service providers (publishers).

The music and film industry are facing similar issues but have yet to find a grip on the situation; the content is more often than not available for free through peer to peer networks therefore a large part of the incentive to go to a shop and buy a cd or film has vanished. As we are digitizing vast amounts of audio-visual cultural heritage we are facing the same questions: what models can be developed that fulfill the need for broad accessibility for the public while securing a solid return on investment for owners of the material (authors, producers, directors, etc).

Some, like Chris Anderson in his soon to be released new book’ Free’ build an entire economic theory based on the notion that free’ will be the leading model for media due to the vanishing marginal costs of distribution via the internet. The new model that rises from the ashes will be a model where the content or service is free, at least for the user. Google of course is a great example of a company that has turned ‘free’ to it’s advantage; the service is free to users while advertisers are the paying customers. At the core a beautiful system as the more you use the service the more revenue it generates for the service provider. Keeping the attention of the viewer is key in the ‘economy of abundance’, so you better make sure the service you develop is so appealing that users get hooked on it. In fact, if this becomes the case, there may be an opportunity to upsell them from freeloaders to paying customers by adding a an additional layer of services or privileges. This freemium model (term coined by venture capitalist Fred Wilson) has quickly become the leading model for web 2.0 companies like Flicrk and Linkedin. Interesting fact is that the rule of thumb is that the 1% of paying users supports the rest.

The crux of developing business models in this economy of abundance, where content is free, seems to be to tap into values that people are willing to pay for. And those values may not be the same as in the old days where content was king. Kevin Kelly calls them ‘generatives’:

‘’A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold.” Think ‘trust’ or ‘personalisation’. In his blog ‘Better than free’ Kevin distiguishes eight of them.

So how does this translate to our audiovisual digitization adventure? Will the specific characteristics of cultural heritage lend itself to open content models like advertisements (google just released a beta service of video advertisements: Adsense for Video ), Freemium services or even community supported businessmodels?

We are hosting a workshop on this topic during the Economies of the Commons conference on saturday April 12 2008 in Amsterdam to investigate the options.


Recent views in the ongoing copyright vs. open access debate

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Steal This FilmCopyright used to be a very specialized field of law, but over the last few years, it has become a highly political topic, where discussions routinely tend to include issues such as freedom of information, human rights of access to knowledge, democracy etc.. These lively discussions take place in every thinkable media forms.  Images for the Future follows these discussions closely. Below are some pointers to recent contributions made by those representing the ‘open access’ movement. Please share your favourite blogposts, books etc. as comments.

To start, Cory Doctorow (blogger, journalist and science fiction author) writs in his latest contribution to The Guardian titled ‘Copyright law should distinguish between commercial and cultural uses’ about how IPR regulations are making it practically impossible for end-users to reuse copyrighted material. He writes how ”…individuals should hire lawyers to negotiate their personal use of cultural material, or at least refrain from sharing their cultural activities with others (except it’s not’s really culture if you’re not sharing it, is it?).” With the internet, it became not only easier to share whatever creation in digital form, for enforcers it became easier to track down possible infringers. Doctorow poses how “We need to stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright, such as fair dealing and fair use. Instead we need to establish a new copyright regime that reflects the age-old normative consensus about what’s fair and what isn’t at the small-scale, hand-to-hand end of copying, display, performance and adaptation.”

For Joost Smiers (professor of political science of the arts at the Utrecht School of the Arts) this wouldn’t be a probable strategy. In his article “What if we would not have copyright” he states “…it is unthinkable to bring the current system back to normal proportions because it is not in the interest of the main proponents of the system – the cultural conglomerates- to assist in this transformation”. His paper presents a radically different (but in my view not totally convincing) economic model for creative sector. Smiers believes any artistic creation belongs in the public domain and thus proposes to abolish the whole concept of copyright. Whatever you make of his quite radical, albeit thought provoking vision, Smiers ends his paper with a conclusion that is widely shared “One must be blind not to observe that copyright is in it’s final days. Even massive criminalisation of users of artistic materials does not work any longer”. The artice was published in the MyCreativity Reader and can be obtained for free through the Institute of Network Cultures.

Copyright used to be a very specialized field of law, but over the last few years, it has become a highly political topic, where discussions routinely tend to include issues such as freedom of information, human rights of access to knowledge, democracy etc.. These lively discussions take place in every thinkable media forms.

Steal This FilmThis premise is the starting point of the documentary Steal This Film II, released a few weeks ago. Through interviews with Yochai Benkler, Brewster Kahle, Rick Prelinger, Laurence Liang and many other influential thinkers, Steal This Film brilliantly explores current changes in the way media is produced, distributed and consumed. It traces back the roots of piracy to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and continues makes the case how file sharing is the fundamental structure of the internet. For copyright holders, this results in serious headaches. As Aaron Swarts, co-founder of the social news website states: “there’s no one you can go to and say: stop the file sharing – it’s just not built that way” If you haven’t downloaded the documentary yet, you can do so online: at Steal This Film II.

The new attitude towards the production of media was at the heart of the Video Vortex conference, that took place on 18-19 December. Speakers like Jay Dedman and Valentin Spirik took the stage to demonstrate how easy it is to produce and distribute online video, giving dozens of examples. Many of these can be found on the Yahoo Videoblogging group webpages.

The Do It Yourself (DIY) model is also applicable in the music industry. In the January edition of Wired Magazine, David Byrne offers different models that are currently shaping the music industry; more precisely the relationship between artists and record companies. Byrne writes: “Where there was one, now there are six: Six possible music distribution models, ranging from one on which the artist is pretty much hands-off to one where the artist does nearly everything.” On one end of the scale is the equity deal, where artists hand over virtually every aspect of their carrier; the artist becomes a brand. Madonna made this kind of deal some months ago with Live Nation. On the far end of the scale sits the self-distribution model, where music is self written, self produced and self distributed. Radiohead adopted this DIY model for the much publicised release of their latest album, ‘In Rainbows’.

In the Netherlands, a parliamentary working group will study the impact the rise internet is having on copyright. This working group, announced mid January, will investigate scenario’s how to compensate rights owners for mass downloading in illegal ways.

As Images for the Future continues to develop innovative services, such as the Plaform Open Licences, these views are helping to define a strategic agenda on this topic. The question how to create sustainable access to archive holdings – and the legal aspects regarding reuse are also going to be discussed during the Economies of the Commons conference (10-12 April 2008) co-hosted by De Balie and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.