Great column from Paul Krugman today discussing how the digital revolution has altered the economics of the various creative industries and that the model we are seeing industry slowly adapt to today was pioneered by The Grateful Dead,
Then the technology bubble popped. Many highly touted New Economy companies, it turned out, were better at promoting their images than at making money — although some of them did pioneer new forms of accounting fraud. After that came the oil shock and the food shock, grim reminders that we’re still living in a material world.
So much, then, for the digital revolution? Not so fast. The predictions of ’90s technology gurus are coming true more slowly than enthusiasts expected — but the future they envisioned is still on the march.
In 1994, one of those gurus, Esther Dyson, made a striking prediction: that the ease with which digital content can be copied and disseminated would eventually force businesses to sell the results of creative activity cheaply, or even give it away. Whatever the product — software, books, music, movies — the cost of creation would have to be recouped indirectly: businesses would have to “distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships.”
For example, she described how some software companies gave their product away but earned fees for installation and servicing. But her most compelling illustration of how you can make money by giving stuff away was that of the Grateful Dead, who encouraged people to tape live performances because “enough of the people who copy and listen to Grateful Dead tapes end up paying for hats, T-shirts and performance tickets. In the new era, the ancillary market is the market.”
Indeed, it turns out that the Dead were business pioneers. Rolling Stone recently published an article titled “Rock’s New Economy: Making Money When CDs Don’t Sell.” Downloads are steadily undermining record sales — but today’s rock bands, the magazine reports, are finding other sources of income. Even if record sales are modest, bands can convert airplay and YouTube views into financial success indirectly, making money through “publishing, touring, merchandising and licensing.”
He goes on to explore how this model has applied to other industries focusing on publishing but acknowledging that the future for intellectual property lies in this model.