Cory Doctorow lays down his not-actually-a-manifesto

Paul Raven @ 06-10-2010

The more famous Cory Doctorow gets, the more people try to knock him down. I’m quite fond of him myself (he’s very charming in person, if somewhat perpetually part-distracted*), but while I’m not going to argue any sort of superhero status for the guy (I’ll leave that to Randall Munroe), when it comes to puncturing the poor arguments of his most vocal critics, he’s got undeniable flair. Witness his recent retort to an article that accused him and other net notables of profiteering from their “evangelism” of “free” business models for creatives, which also acts as a pretty good summary of the state of the artistic marketplace and the ongoing copyright wars. A few snippets:

What should other artists do? Well, I’m not really bothered. The sad truth is that almost everything almost every artist tries to earn money will fail. This has nothing to do with the internet, of course. Consider the remarkable statement from Alanis Morissette’s attorney at the Future of Music Conference: 97% of the artists signed to a major label before Napster earned $600 or less a year from it. And these were the lucky lotto winners, the tiny fraction of 1% who made it to a record deal. Almost every artist who sets out to earn a living from art won’t get there (for me, it took 19 years before I could afford to quit my day job), whether or not they give away their work, sign to a label, or stick it through every letterbox in Zone 1.

If you’re an artist and you’re interested in trying to give stuff away to sell more, I’ve got some advice for you, as I wrote here – I think it won’t hurt and it could help, especially if you’ve got some other way, like a label or a publisher, to get people to care about your stuff in the first place.

But I don’t care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet, or if you plan on building a business around this idea. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I’ve been surprised before.

[…]

I understand perfectly well what you’re saying in your column: people who give away some of their creative output for free in order to earn a living are the exception. Most artists will fail at this. What’s more, their dirty secret is their sky-high appearance fees – they don’t really earn a creative living at all. But authors have been on the lecture circuit forever – Dickens used to pull down $100,000 for US lecture tours, a staggering sum at the time. This isn’t new – authors have lots to say, and many of us are secret extroverts, and quite enjoy the chance to step away from our desks to talk about the things we’re passionate about.

But you think that anyone who talks up their success at giving away some work to sell other work is peddling fake hope. There may be someone out there who does this, but it sure isn’t me. As I’ve told all of my writing students, counting on earning a living from your work, no matter how you promote it or release it, is a bad idea. All artists should have a fallback plan for feeding themselves and their families. This has nothing to do with the internet – it’s been true since the days of cave paintings.

I believe the appropriate phrase is “zing”.

[ * After appearing on a panel with Cory at Eastercon 2008, to which he managed to contribute more thoughts and ideas than the rest of us put together despite busily battering away at a netbook at the same time, a friend from the audience suggested a hypothetical version of posthuman bear-baiting: the game would simply involve installing Cory within a Faraday cage that blocked all wi-fi and phone signals, and then betting on how long it would be before he spontaneously combusted from sheer frustration… ]

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12 Responses to “Cory Doctorow lays down his not-actually-a-manifesto”

  1. Hakan says:

    I’m sure I was in that room at Eastercon 🙂 Your description matches him perfectly!

  2. Jonathan M says:

    Eh? So Doctorow gets on his soapbox and over a period of years sings the praises of giving away stuff for free. Someone else then points out that this business model only actually works if you’re well known and so won’t (contrary to Doctorow’s public suggestions) work for everyone and Doctorow responds by saying that you shouldn’t expect to make money anyway.

    So…

    1) Doctorow makes claim A.
    2) People point out that Claim A is not necessarily true.
    3) Doctorow responds by saying OF COURSE claim A is not necessarily true.

    And this is a zing against the people criticising Doctorow? Not sure I follow.

  3. Wintermute says:

    Copyright-abiding system: Almost every musician wasn’t earning a living.

    “Freeconomics” system: EVERY musician isn’t earning a living. (Those that do publicly profess to win teh bread proclaim the glories of free and flash their SV neo-hippy/libertarian feel-goodness + bling for the PR with poor copyleftists, but actually have clandestine trust funds back in the WASP Nest and/or are milking the residual celebrity godhead generated by previous marketing by the Big Evil Music Biz.

    Let’s factor in Sturgeon’s Law that 90% of all content is crap (almost every musician), and we have something kinda like an apologist strawman handwave.

    This is not to say that the RIAA is the starving recording artists’ Jesus Christ (or Captain America, while on the theme of superheros); far from it. There were a lot of bullying gangsters as greedy as any AIG executive, and musicians weren’t payed fairly at all. (TLC infamously made less than a part-time McDonald’s employee each I believe for their gold album) Intellectual property moguls, raking in the dough and doling out scraps to the unwashed creatives, for the most part. But now, instead, we’ve got musicians making even less, while the “Big Idea” charlatans are out soaking up money for proclaiming the glories (propaganda) of “open source”, “user empowerment”, “crowd wisdom”, “open web”, “decentralization” even as the central nodes themselves — Google, Facebook, iTunes — paradoxically become the most powerful and remain the most closed. Everything is peace love and open-sharing, except these Big Brother spy services holding their lucrative closed-source data mining algorithms and collected personal data tighter than the RIAA to copyrights. The music magnates and Citizen Kanes weren’t so great, but now we have Cloud Lords scooping up the content and personal data of the starving digital peons so rapt with the “free” rhetoric they give away their creative/intellectual labor to wind up pumping gas / selling cheap Chinese crap / pushing LIAR loans as Google “tells them what do next” for the highest bidder. The online business model is scraping pennies off the decaying economic remnants as we spiral downward in a game as self-destructive as subprime financial derivatives.

    About the only thing we manufacture nowadays is hype; advertising, marketing, irrational exhuberance. It’s an illusion economy based on owning the Means of Communication and Networking, and it’s an inherently zero sum game despite the “value added, symbolic analyst” feel-good apologism after we dumped the real jobs off to the foreign slaves.

    Just because people at present are not able to make money from the fruits of their hearts and minds (instead of advertising or being forced to sing/give talks for every supper) and the previous system wasn’t so good at it either, does not mean that we are doomed to pendulum-swing between these two deeply flawed systems of digital open Marxism and Iron-fisted closedness based on the needs of “Big Thinker” lecture/book topic needs. It’s very much like the time-tested liberal vs conservative Democrat vs Republican duality “debate” that has dominated US politics for the past 40 years that is really a wagging of the dog, a puppet show played out by the puppets of the Moneyed Class, that does not help the average person but gives the politicians something to pretend to do.

    Oh, but of course, “This is nothing new, life’s always been tough for us poor old musicians, artists, journalists.” It’s not new, it’s worse. Look out the window. But the answer is not to fall back on this open-closed duality tribalism, lapsing into vicarious 60’s rebel-complexes and declaring all opponents of free the Second Coming of the Evil Big Content empire. “If you’re not with us, you’re The System!” There are third ways forward that are not from column a or b. Not Coke or Pepsi. Something else. These often include micropayments and universal accounts and government-mandated truly open e-markets — no more Walled Gardens and brand-exclusion: if you want to play capitalism, let’s play capitalism, none of this Too Big To Compete nonsense.

    In the 21st century, internet corporation/network/nations recruited whole armies of starving journalists and writers jobless from mass ebook pirating, turned them into tech-evangelists, science fiction writers, geek culture bloggers, payed millions to profess the glories of “open source”, “user empowerment”, “crowd wisdom”, “open web”, “decentralization” even as the central nodes themselves, Guugol, Friendbook, paradoxically became the most powerful and remained the most closed. Big Brother spy services holding their lucrative closed-source data mining algorithms and collected personal data tighter than the RIAA to copyrights. Cloud Lords scooping up the content and personal data of the starving digital peons, scraping pennies off the decaying economics remnants as they spiraled downward in a game as self-destructive as subprime financial derivatives.

  4. Paul Raven says:

    Jona: the point is that he’s never said “everyone should do this, it’s the solution to the artist’s dilemma”, but he’s frequently said “this works for me, and here’s why”. I think you’re raising the very same straw man that the linked piece burns down… though if you’ve got links to the contrary, by all means, fire away. 🙂

    Wintermute: sure, polarised dualities are inherently flawed, and a large part of the problem with Western attitudes and philosophies as a whole. But as you say yourself, we can swing to any point on the arc between the two. I tend to take the view that chasing a perfect [society/economy/system] is pointless, but I see no harm in looking at the one you currently have and thinking about how to make it better. And I’m not sure that things really are worse for artists than they’ve ever been; I work on the fringes of the music industry, and I know a lot of small-time bands who make some or all of their income from their music, most of them without label support, many of them allowing their music to be downloaded for free. Scarcity is the issue; scarcity and desirability. Make or do something that has both, and you might be able to make some money from it. And it’s easier than ever before to let the potential market for your ‘thing’ know you exist, and where you can be found.

    The flaw with your digital peon theory – which has a lot going for it, mind you – is that there’s no indenture; I’m not a citizen of Google, but a customer. After a while, those creating only in hope of making some money will give up. Google and Facebook can only take as much from us as we’re willing to give them… and if it’s really the one-way exploitation you’re painting it as, eventually we’ll *all* give up, and their business models will collapse. Markets evolve; this is not an end point. It’s too early to call the overall outcome of rhizomatic networking on human society and economics. The bets don’t pay until the game is played out. 🙂

  5. Wintermute says:

    I agree that if enough people get fed up with the current system, it may change, however I think it will be through some new online economic model rather than because people stop adding content and information to the internet. If the kids I know are any any sign of the times, they’re only putting up more and more of themselves, living their lives more and more through the ‘net. 🙂

    “I’m not a citizen of Google, but a customer.”

    Aha, but you see, you are not the customer of Google, you are the *product* of Google, the advertiser is the customer paying Google for access to you. You don’t pay Google to be indexed, Google just indexes you. More free stuff up online simply means more content for them to aggregate and slap advertising on/funnel traffic to the highest bidder. They’re benefiting hugely from the open, everyone sharing everything all the time model, while they themselves are totally closed. The same goes for Facebook. This is one of the reasons why Facebook can continuously abuse its users, changing privacy settings right out from under them. Because it is not the users but the companies looking to utilize the personal information and/or social graphs Facebook has gathered on the users, and it’s these 3rd parties who are going to generate the bulk of their revenue. If their revenue was coming from paying users, they’d have to be a lot nicer.

    “I know a lot of small-time bands who make some or all of their income from their music, most of them without label support, many of them allowing their music to be downloaded for free. ”

    So the music is free, I’m assuming you mean they make money from the live gigs and merchandising?

  6. Paul Raven says:

    This is one of the reasons why Facebook can continuously abuse its users, changing privacy settings right out from under them. Because it is not the users but the companies looking to utilize the personal information and/or social graphs Facebook has gathered on the users, and it’s these 3rd parties who are going to generate the bulk of their revenue. If their revenue was coming from paying users, they’d have to be a lot nicer.

    Very true, but the barriers to departing a free service are much lower; Facebook can’t afford to push too hard, because then a competitor can just replicate the feature set and use better privacy facilities as their USP. And as to Google being closed, well, of course they are, but you can’t claim we don’t get anything back; when’s the last time you spent a day on the web and didn’t Google something (or use a competitor search engine)? Life is a game of compromises… and while I’d agree that many people don’t think as carefully about the implications of those compromises as perhaps they should, the very nature of the web means that the sort of totalitarian control you’re suggesting is self-limiting; lock people up too tight, and they’ll start to leave for pastures greener. (viz: MySpace)

    So the music is free, I’m assuming you mean they make money from the live gigs and merchandising?

    Yup… and this is another Doctorow riff, as it happens! What we’re seeing is a shift back to the primacy of the live performance as a musician’s source of income, which is how things were in the age of vaudeville. And lest you think I’m glamourising it, the life of the small touring band is dismal, hand-to-mouth and fraught with pitfalls; the reason they keep doing it is because they live for the 45 minutes a night that they get to do their thing for an audience. It’ll take a while for there to be enough evidence to back it up, but my theory is that, at least with musicians, income will primarily be the reward for persistance; they have to stick at it long enough to a) get good, b) get past the “why aren’t I famous yet?” trough of disillusionment (which is the real culling field now; sadly there are lots of huckster ‘managers’ willing to exploit the now-dead dream of U2-scale stardom in kids too naive to know better, but they won’t last for long, because word travels pretty fast), and c) build an audience the old-fashioned way, by going out and playing anywhere where they’ll let you plug in your amp for five minutes.

    It’s about as far from a utopian dream as you could imagine (unless you have a taste for the raggedly bohemian!), but I still maintain its already a far fairer system than the one it’s replacing. Sure, your chances of being the next Bono are slim to non-existent (and amen to that, says I), but the infrastructure and market for you to be able to make music your *job* (something that is just as much work as designing websites, or pretty much any other freelance craft, ‘artistic’ or otherwise) has never been healthier.

  7. Wintermute says:

    “Facebook can’t afford to push too hard, because then a competitor can just replicate the feature set and use better privacy facilities as their USP.”

    They can’t push too hard, not all at once, but rather a slow, death by a thousand cuts slicing away at privacy, by gradually pushing the boundaries. This is why Facebook has waited to become the Google of social networking before it has started pulling the creepier privacy mooves: at this point it has a very strong monopoly based on the winner-take-all network lock-in effect, where the utility cost to individuals for leaving the site is high as it is simply the place where everyone is, and competitiors face the Sysiphean uphill battle of attempting to draw users away. Google also has a network lock in: as you say, who has gone a day without using it? Why don’t we all just up and quit? It’s part of the fabric of reality, like Coke and Pepsi. Someday, like Windows, another Cloud Lord will come along, but it will be new boss same as the old, and perhaps they will not have “don’t be evil” as their motto.

    “the very nature of the web means that the sort of totalitarian control you’re suggesting is self-limiting; lock people up too tight, and they’ll start to leave for pastures greener. (viz: MySpace)”

    It’s not that Google is exactly replicating 1984, and is going to have the cyber thought police beat us if we don’t fall into their regimented program. It’s not the totalitarian control, it’s the panopticon, and a simple taking-advantage-of and stagnation of the economics because of the nature of the open-for-users closed-for-The Central and winner-take-all phenomenon. It’s like Windows: they’ve been milking everyone for decades. Why don’t we all just up and leave Windows for greener pastures? Why don’t we all up and leave the banking system? Why don’t we all up and leave oil companies? Because it’s the only game in town, and they’ve done their darndest to make it nearly impossible to compete with them. And if one should fall, another single winner will take its place.

  8. Wintermute says:

    (cut off) They push the envelope just hard enough, Microsoft raising the price as high as they can, banksters siphoning off as much money from the public as they can, Facebook teetering back and forth on that creepy dystopic line of privacy invasion, but never hard enough to make things so bad for people that they pass the tipping point and incite some kind of revolution or mas exodus. It’s a delicate art. And they have the money for the propaganda (hype/illusion economy, marketing, Big Idea books in favor of their agenda) which allows them to convince people that “it’s so great to give everything away/put all your info online!” etc., and further shift that line in their favor.

  9. Wintermute says:

    “Sure, your chances of being the next Bono are slim to non-existent (and amen to that, says I), but the infrastructure and market for you to be able to make music your *job* (something that is just as much work as designing websites, or pretty much any other freelance craft, ‘artistic’ or otherwise) has never been healthier.”

    I’m not sure I agree that music is a more viable/better career path now than it was fifteen or twenty years ago, being a musician myself and seeing net-negative change, but I guess I’ll have to see more empirical data. 🙂

    In the 20th century (and to a lesser degree, now) there were Bono Idorus, winners of the broadcast-media Power Law, but at the same time, before file sharing, many thousands of musicians have made comfortable, and respectful careers by selling their actual music, not having to live hand to mouth. Let’s not forget the first victim to fall beneath the juggernaut of the mp3 were the independent labels. The live component might be a little better now, the recorded media component was certainly better pre-Napster. Do we have to cut off one hand to spite the other or can we find some way to allow both channels of revenue to thrive? I believe that decision is a false decision perpetuated largely by the open-movement dichotomy, I believe we can do both.

    “And lest you think I’m glamourising it, the life of the small touring band is dismal, hand-to-mouth and fraught with pitfalls; the reason they keep doing it is because they live for the 45 minutes a night that they get to do their thing for an audience.”

    Is this really a sustainable model? Can you buy a house, raise a family with just this sing-for-supper grind? Is this the best we as humans can do? Do artists, writers, creatives need to all be reduced to starving nomads or can we as a human species do better than that? Can we design the rules of a game in which people can make dignified livings selling the fruits of our hearts and minds to each other instead of choosing between defending the fortunes of the rich moguls as advertisers, lawyers, finance spinsters or living at or near poverty as artists? I believe it’s possible, and whatever side of the false dichotomy you find yourself defending more, I don’t think that we should settle for what we currently have. And I believe it is not only possible, but necessary, in part because the deeply broken economic system which the financial crisis/Great Recession is a symptom of has roots in the fact that we collectively as the first world have largely shifted from producing things of value to figuring out ways to suck value off of others, through marketing, finance fraud and theft, lawyer arms-wars, lock-in, etc. and one of those “real” economies we might have and could have is an actual economy of creative content. It is also necessary for us to find the third way forward because musicians and journalists are only the first to fall under the digital revolution, this century’s John Henry story. Eventually, as the machines and robots get good enough — robots start building roads, band t-shirts become worthless when you can print one out in your living room — greater and greater sectors of human employment will be jeopardized if we don’t figure this out.

  10. Wintermute says:

    “And as to Google being closed, well, of course they are, but you can’t claim we don’t get anything back; when’s the last time you spent a day on the web and didn’t Google something (or use a competitor search engine)?”

    The point about Silicon Valley rhetoric leaning strongly to this everything-open-sharing-all-the-time even as the major players there, such as Google and Facebook remain super-closed one-way mirrors is an illustration of the hypocrisy of what they say, and what they actually do in practice. “You all be open, everyone, but we’ll be closed because it’s convenient for us to make money.”

    I also reject the idea that we must simply make the ‘tradeoff’ and accept Google’s spying and them making all the money for aggregating and advertising on our content leaving us e-paupers. I don’t view this as an acceptable trade off in the long run. A big reason for promoting a system where individuals can sell their content to each other, and thereby raise all boats rather than everyone blogging for pennies and begging Google to rank them is that with more distributed revenue comes more distributed power, clout to push back against the poor/unfair treatment of the common internet user by big companies. Just as the stratospherically uneven distribution of money in the US (microcosm of the world) has resulted in a breakdown in democracy, as the richest can and do essentially buy the government, things such as net neutrality can never work as long as the online community remains so astronomically stratified to where the central nodes (like Google) make all the money and everyone else is struggling to make a few cents, and thus have no clout in the system. So all of a sudden Google is making deals with Verizon that could end net-neutrality, “how dare they!” well, what did you expect? If you want net neutrality you’ve got to have clout distributed among the online population, and if you don’t have even distribution, you won’t get net neutrality. Another good example is the massive numbers of bloggers secretly paid to promote a certain political party and make it appear like a grass-roots groundswell, and paid a tiny amount, to boot. When you have a poor population with a lot of money in the center, it becomes bribable, and the democracy fails. Another important point is that the biggest instance of this phenomenon, the Koch scandal, was not self-discovered by bloggers, but was rooted out by an “old fashioned” traditional reporter working for a traditional paper magazine, being payed to go out and do all the hard research and compose not a few tweets but a long and very careful article. So again, I don’t think that this is something that we should just tolerate because Google is a convenient way of finding things out. I think we can collectively work towards making the system better, and more even, and yes, this may involve new laws and regulations enforced by (The Big Bad) government to rules and structures to allow more fair distribution. Among these are a universal account and payment system to minimize network lock-in and dampen the winner-take-all effect. People can only handle so many accounts, so you are limited by the underlying capacity of the human brain to how many stores you can shop at. The way things work right now in the walled gardens like iTunes, it’s basically like you’ve got a Wal-Mart dollar that only works at Wal-Mart, which is not a market. With universal accounts, any online dollar works anywhere else and anyone can buy from anyone else, leveling the playing field.

  11. Paul Raven says:

    … I don’t think that we should settle for what we currently have.

    On this point, we are in complete agreement! I think perhaps we differ as to where we fall on the spectrum between idealism and pragmatism; I agree with most of what you’re saying in principle, but I think we can only work toward that better fairer future incrementally. After all, history as a whole shows us doing exactly that… though when you look at things from the front line of personal experience, it tends to seem that the opposite is happening.

    And I agree as the political chicanery of the web, though I suspect that’s a symptom of a system beginning to collapse. Sure, online journalism can’t yet compete with “classic” journalism, at least as far as hardcore investigative work is concerned, but should we give up on the hope of it improving just because it isn’t there yet? Change is gradual; no one will ever live to see their own idea of utopia, because by the time the last generation’s utopia has been created, a new generation has upgraded its definitions. Life isn’t exactly peachy at the moment, but I suspect that for the vast majority of people, if you gave them the choice between living the lives they have now or the lives they would have had twenty, thirty or fifty years ago, only the most naive would cash in their chips for a return to “the good old days”. Perfection is not a destination, it’s a direction… and the path toward it meanders.

    And you’re possibly overlooking a big difference between governments and corporations, in that a government gains that which it most desires – namely complete control, power – from a totalitarian set-up, but a corporation loses out on its raison d’etre in the same situation. A corporation has no interest in making impoverished peons of us all, because if they do there’ll be no one left to buy their products and/or services… or, in the case of Google, no one left to buy the products and services of the organisations who pay Google for ads. Capitalism has many flaws and downsides, but it’s only when protectionism comes in – when governments realise they can consolidate power by leveraging the advantages they can give to select companies – that the market becomes distorted in the way you’re talking about. And if you look at ACTA, Disney, Hollywood, the RIAA… these are all classic cases of lobbied protectionism. Yes. the market is skewed, and the little guy content creators can get screwed over… I know this from first-hand experience, as you’re doubtless already aware! But advising the world’s creators to stop creating and sharing their work for free just because the ultimate system to enable them to make a living isn’t yet in place strikes me as cutting off our civilisational nose to spite our face, in a way.

    Sure, there are nasty corporations out there, but we have more leverage over them than we have over our governments. As the old anarchist aphorism goes, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in”; corporations, however, are dependent on keeping us sweet, whether they realise it or not.

    And as Doctorow points out, he’s not saying “everyone should give their content away for free” (and nor am I); he’s just saying that there are some observable benefits, and that it’s worked for him and for others. It’s is the creative’s own choice as to whether they want to hoard their creations against the day someone will pay for them, or whether they give in to the more basic desire to communicate, to let people see and hear their work. Is that desire to communicate exploited? Of course it is… and I’d love to live in a world where every artist could make a good living from their work. But I think that’s a pipedream at best; we can only play the hand we’re dealt, after all. 🙂

  12. Wintermute says:

    “A corporation has no interest in making impoverished peons of us all.”

    No, not everyone, just the latest incarnation of slaves and sweatshop flunkies 3000 miles away in China — they outsource the totalitarianism, it fly well with the PR department — to take advantage of trade imbalances and wage arbitrage. Oh, and the illegal immigrants, and also the hollowing out of the middle class. The upper classes can get bluer and bluer blood, though. And they’ve been doing very well with the “trim the fat” Reagan/Thatcherism of firing a bunch of people, moving jobs away, cutting everyone’s pay in a quarter to get the big fat bonus then checking out. Kinda like the banker pedaling the Gaussian Copula and playing master of the universe, setting WMDs in the system, scoring the 50-100 mil bonus than high-tailing it to the Caimans and faking surprise and outrage when the whirlwind reaps havok. They cut as many jobs as they can, eroding the real economy to bloat the financial sector and pull demand forward through debt bubbles — mass credit cards, using your house as an atm machine — so you can still be a peon in middle class clothing. 🙂 And, obviously, they’ve gotten away with it, and not only are we paying for our debt, we’re paying for their debt as well (and our children and grandchildren) in the form of those wonderful government bailouts. Corporations — or let’s be clear, the individuals who use corporations to escalate wealth up into their pockets — are quite happy to create impoverished peons as long as they still come out on top, as they have, and continue to do. Eventually, perhaps, they will mine the populace to a point where capitalism has eaten itself and Google will have no-one left to convince to spend the debt-money they don’t have, yes. This is precisely what I said earlier about the downward spiral. Like climate change, or the destructive bubbles, it’s tragedy of the commons. Corporations’ raison d’etre is not to make sure it sells things and keeps the wheels of the economy moving and growing, its purpose — by law — is to make money, period. If oil companies screwing over the environment and causing climatepocalypse, then the nature of competition, in the absence of some outside non-corporate force, will create a screwed environment. If banks blowing up the economy makes money and they can get away with it, the economy will blow up, even if it leaves the financial and economy a wreck. If a system makes everyone poor but corporations like Google find it supportive of their business model, Google will continue to do what it does, even as everyone gets poorer, right up until we whimper into an economic wasteland, as long as they can still scrape up those pennies somewhere, because they are beholden to the quarterly meeting which demands they MAKE MONEY RIGHT NOW. Catastrophe capitalism, it’s the new black (or old, depending on how you look at it vis-a-vis 1929).

    I agree that the common people have the possibility of leverage on the corporate end. But, though government, at least here in the US, is riddled with corruption, the public does have some leverage in the sense that politicians, no matter how much money moguls and corporations dump into their coffers, still are elected by people where votes are weighed 1 to 1, not by the weight of the bank account. A good example is the recent primary in my state, where the candidate with the bigger warchest (almost triple the other guy) ended up losing because of favoritist comments he made which totally didn’t jive with the public. That’s also a benefit of the internet, where people can easily organize and discuss, and where we have sites like theyworkforyou that make it easy to see exactly what politicians are doing/have done and up transparency.

    And remember, it’s through the government that we got seatbelts, minimum wage, universal healthcare (well, you UK guys got it, we’re still kinda getting screwed in the US, thanks to *lack* of government intervention, that whole scary socialism thing). It’s hrough government that places like California have made headway in reducing carbon emissions by changing the rules of the game such that utility companies make money not by selling more energy but by encouraging people to use less. Through government that we got the EPA. Markets can be distorted without protectionism, just one example is a monopoly (Microsoft), and it’s not corporations or the market but government that has to step in to break things up. (Monopoly / oligopoly is the default situation nowadays, re: lock-in and winner-take-all, so yeah we got more distortion than a bad post-punk band) And I think we all know the happy situation we all found ourselves in letting the market run wild without government regulation (with teeth) in this latest superbubble. Corporations don’t and can’t self-regulate, and though I agree that consumers hold some degree of influence on corporations, just buying Pepsi instead of Coke is not going to solve all our problems, otherwise we wouldn’t be in all the messes we currently find ourselves in. Despite the imperfectness and weight of money on government, we’re still going to need it to do the heavy lifting, design the rules of the game so that when the players play it, instead of zero-sum everyone losing, it’s win-win and we all get richer.

    Now, how we get from here to there, that’s tricky and I agree that pragmatically speaking, we’re unlikely to make any quantum leaps to utopia by the sheer gravitas of our ideas or something. I do think we need our noses and faces, both arms: the left – government, and the right – the market to do the work. The ease of communication has perils and benefits, at the same time that corporations and governments can take advantage of the panopticon, people can also connect, network, and spread ideas easier, and with tiny overhead. If giving away your content for free now works for you (apparently it does for Doctorow) then you don’t need to stop. And even if you’re not making much money at all, stopping your sharing is not necessarily a good idea either. Just keep in mind there could be something better out there if we could get the rules of the online game right.