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… ]


Daddy, where does innovation come from?

Paul Raven @ 06-08-2010

Plenty of folk have been linking to this excerpt from Matt Ridley’s new book The Rational Optimist, and with good reason – it’s a provocative piece that plays to advocates (and opponents) of free trade, open exchange, copyright reform and much more. The basic thesis? The one persistent factor that has encouraged innovation and new ideas is the freedom to pass them around and build upon them.

You should read the whole thing, as Ridley takes down in turn the usual answers offered to the question of innovation’s source – science, capital, IP, government. But here’s some stirring stuff from the conclusion:

We may soon be living in a post-capitalist, post-corporate world where individuals are free to come together in temporary aggregations to share, collaborate, and innovate, and where websites enable people to find employers, employees, customers, and clients anywhere in the world. This is also, as the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller reminds us, a world that will put “infinite production ability in the service of infinite human lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, greed, envy, and pride.” But that is roughly what the elite said about cars, cotton factories, and (I’m guessing) wheat and hand axes too.

Were it not for this inexhaustible river of invention and discovery irrigating the fragile crop of human welfare, living standards would stagnate. Even with population tamed, fossil energy tapped, and trade free, the human race could quickly discover the limits to growth without new knowledge. Trade would sort out who was best at making what; exchange could spread the division of labor to best effect, and fuel could amplify the efforts of every factory hand, but eventually there would be a slowing of growth. A menacing equilibrium would loom.

In that sense, Ricardo and Mill were right. But so long as it can hop from country to country and from industry to industry, discovery is a fast-breeder chain reaction; innovation is a feedback loop; invention is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Equilibrium and stagnation are not only avoidable in a free-exchanging world. They are impossible.

What are your thoughts – is Ridley on to something here, or just grandstanding to libertarians, valleygeeks and copyleftists?

It’s clear that Ridley feels economic equilibrium is something to be feared, and on that point I’m not entirely sure I’m in agreement with him… chasing after perpetual growth has been a pretty messy business in the long term, after all. But I can’t fault his thoughts about innovation. I wonder if it would be possible to entirely disconnect innovation from a money economy? Impossible right now, sure, but in a hypothetical post-scarcity future it might just fly.


MALLORY by Leonard Richardson

Paul Raven @ 01-04-2008

A new month means a new story here at Futurismic … and this one has got everything.

Seriously – geek hackers and classic arcade games, electronic Darwinism and domestic espionage, venture capital and Valley-esque start-ups … and a healthy dose of intellectual property panic. Leonard Richardson‘s Futurismic début is quite a piece of work!

I should also point out for the benefit of the easily-offended that there’s a generous sprinkling of profanity in “Mallory”, right from the outset. Still keen? Good – you won’t regret it! Click on through and read the whole thing … and please leave comments for Leonard to let him know what you thought of the story.

Mallory

by Leonard Richardson

Vijay had been playing video games his whole life, but he’d never really become addicted to one until the first incarnation of Fuck Me. Adding an element of real-time strategy to the already-frenetic Gestalt Warrior combined construction, emergent behavior, and blob-themed violence in a way that both Vijay and the Selfish GAME found satisfying.

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