Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Online Publishing Strategy: What Has More Value Than Free Content?

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When content can be copied indefinitely and just about anything digital can be duplicated and re-distributed instantly, where is value to be found? "The money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits."

Photo credit: Yuri Arcurs

Kevin Kelly, in his last essay entitled "Better than free" provides an excellent analysis of this issue while proposing eight unique characterizing traits for creating value in the age of free and ubiquitous content.

He writes:

"The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can't erase something once its flowed on the internet."

And while the economy from which most countries come from has been long based on selling and distributing scarce, precious goods which were available only in limited quantity, the new digital era rides on this immense copy duplication machine that the Internet is undermining gradually but ever more strongly the established economic order.

If you stop and think for a moment, you can realize yourself that when copying and copies become super abundant, they tend to become less and less valuable.

At the same time this happens, it is also true that anything that is scarce and difficult to copy or replicate gains lots of value.

This is why these two questions which Kevin Kelly poses to himself, are so important to be understood:

a) If reproductions of our best efforts are free, how can we keep going?

b) How does one make money selling free copies?

One needs to start thinking with a different mindset than the one used until now as there are indeed multiple qualities or characterizing traits that can be sold at a price even when everything else is free.

Take trust. "Trust cannot be copied. You can't purchase it. Trust must be earned, over time. It cannot be downloaded. Or faked. Or counterfeited (at least for long). If everything else is equal, you'll always prefer to deal with someone you can trust. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value in a copy saturated world."

Take credibility. Take personal availability and attention. Any of these qualities, add value to whatever information or content you are interested in and may be indeed the key differentiating value between what will be economically worth tomorrow and everything else.

The key questions therefore to address are also:

Why would you ever pay for anything that could be accessed also for free?

When you buy something that you could easily get for free from another and similar source, what is it that you are really buying?

Here the eight unique values that the era of free, duplicable content, will give greater value to.

If you are an online independent publisher or wish to become one, you must read this:



Kevin Kelly writes:
"...I see roughly eight categories of intangible value that we buy when we pay for something that could be free. In a real sense, these are eight things that are better than free.

Eight uncopyable values.

I call them "generatives."

A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured.

A generative thing cannot 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."

Eight Generatives Better Than Free

Here I have taken each one of Kevin Kelly's original eight points and have illustrated them , added a more personal short description under each one, while maintaining a short edited excerpt of Kelly's own longer original ones (so you can still have a great deal of interesting stuff to read on his great original post).

  1. Immediacy


    Getting something the moment you want it, or even before others can, is positively a unique, characterizing trait of a generative unique.

    "As a sellable quality, immediacy has many levels, including access to beta versions. Fans are brought into the generative process itself. Beta versions are often de-valued because they are incomplete, but they also possess generative qualities that can be sold."

    "Immediacy is a relative term, which is why it is generative. It has to fit with the product and the audience."

  2. Personalization


    Having your own, custom made video device like I did with this remote video streaming pad as much as having your custom made music selection, news compilation or publishing tool provides with a degree of satisfaction and "bonding" with the product/service at hand that is well above the norm.

    "As many have noted, personalization requires an ongoing conversation between the creator and consumer, artist and fan, producer and user. It is deeply generative because it is iterative and time consuming. You can't copy the personalization that a relationship represents. Marketers call that "stickiness" because it means both sides of the relationship are stuck (invested) in this generative asset, and will be reluctant to switch and start over."

  3. Interpretation


    Today the interpreter is a role with a rapidly increasing value. The analyst, the usability engineer, as well as the personal coach and the tech adviser are all roles which provide great value by helping you interpret and understand better specific information while guiding you to make the best use of it.

    "I suspect a lot of genetic information will go this route. Right now getting your copy of your DNA is very expensive, but soon it won't be. In fact, soon pharmaceutical companies will PAY you to get your genes sequence. So the copy of your sequence will be free, but the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it -- the manual for your genes so to speak -- will be expensive."

  4. Authenticity


    The stamp of authenticity maintains a feeling of greater ownership and closeness with th author of any product, service or artwork.

    "Artists have dealt with this problem for a long time. Graphic reproductions such as photographs and lithographs often come with the artist's stamp of authenticity -- a signature -- to raise the price of the copy. Digital watermarks and other signature technology will not work as copy-protection schemes (copies are super-conducting liquids, remember?) but they can serve up the generative quality of authenticity for those who care."

  5. Accessibility


    Making your product or service accessible easily anywhere your readers, viewers or customers may be is indeed the road you need to look at. RSS is a great example of how the value of this intangible is increasingly at work.

    "The fact that most of this material will be available free, if we want to tend it, back it up, keep adding to it, and organize it, will be less and less appealing as time goes on. ...Many people, me included, will be happy to have others tend our "possessions" by subscribing to them. We'll pay Acme Digital Warehouse to serve us any musical tune in the world, when and where we want it, as well as any movie, photo (ours or other photographers)."

  6. Embodiment


    Seeing a live "embodied" version of your favourite author, band, or videomaker buys certainly a much greater value than seeing a bi-dimensional representation of it on a web page. Going to present, perform, showcase or share interesting stories and information is a great way to "embody". A video channel in which you genuinely speak out your heart or talent is a definite positive step in that same direction. And that is not all. You can embody your talent, know-how or talent via wearable merchandise, in-theme gadgets and other physical items that strongly bring out all of your intangible generatives.

    "...sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. ...And nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance, with real bodies. The music is free; the bodily performance expensive. This formula is quickly becoming a common one for not only musicians, but even authors. The book is free; the bodily talk is expensive."

  7. Patronage


    Audiences want to pay their favorite authors because it feels good to them to support the individuals they like. Now that they can do it, supporters and fans want to contribute in supporting the production of more great work from the authors they like and identify with.

    "It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if:

    a) it is very easy to do,

    b) a reasonable amount, and

    c) they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators.

    Radiohead's recent high-profile experiment in letting fans pay them whatever they wished for a free copy is an excellent illustration of the power of patronage.

    The elusive, intangible connection that flows between appreciative fans and the artist is worth something."

  8. Findability


    When there is an overwhelming abundance of content, products and online services from which one can choose from, the value of those that can test-drive, analyze, filter and select those that may best fit specific audiences or uses/applications are going to increase their value by orders of magnitude. DJs who create and publish unique music compilations, newsmasters who compile and edit news streams on specific topics, as well editorial curators and specialty software tech reviewers should all have a bright future ahead of them. Helping others find what they are looking for is increasingly something are willing to pay for.

    "A zero price does not help direct attention to a work, and in fact may sometimes hinder it. But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention -- and most of it free -- being found is valuable."

    As "findability can really only happen at the systems level, creators need aggregators. This is why publishers, studios, and labels (PSL)will never disappear. They are not needed for distribution of the copies (the internet machine does that). Rather the PSL are needed for the distribution of the users' attention back to the works. ...

    ...There is money to be made (indirectly for the creatives) by finding talent."

Final Thoughts

"These eight qualities require a new skill set.

Success in the free-copy world is not derived from the skills of distribution since the Great Copy Machine in the Sky takes care of that.

Nor are legal skills surrounding Intellectual Property and Copyright very useful anymore. Nor are the skills of hoarding and scarcity.

Rather, these new eight generatives demand an understanding of how abundance breeds a sharing mindset, how generosity is a business model, how vital it has become to cultivate and nurture qualities that can't be replicated with a click of the mouse.

In short, the money in this networked economy does not follow the path of the copies. Rather it follows the path of attention, and attention has its own circuits."

Originally passages in quotes written by Kevin Kelly for Technium and first published on February 4th 2008 as "Better Than Free" - Edited, formatted and illustrated by Robin Good

Kevin Kelly -
Reference: The Technium [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Thursday, February 7 2008, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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