Content is a public good: the abundance economics of digital media

Paul Raven @ 15-04-2010

In the absence of Charlie Stross (who is out in Japan, the fortunate devil), guest posts are appearing on his blog… and today’s is a little something different, namely a 101 guide to the economics of digital media from one Milena Popova:

So, to recap, for pure private goods, the market is both a practical and efficient way of allocating resources, and that’s what we do most of the time. As soon as we move away from the pure private good paradigm, either because our good is non-rival or non-excludable or both, the market ceases to look like a good idea. In practice, what happens is that we try to use technical and/or legislative means to help us approximate private goods when dealing with any type of not purely private good. We can, for instance, make it a crime to overfish the seas, or put fences around our golf course to stop people from overrunning it without paying; we can make it a crime not to pay the tax that contributes to running the armed forces. (Oh and, incidentally, using a public-type good without paying your dues is called “free-riding”. It’s something economists are obsessed with stopping.)

Okay, enough with the theory. Let’s look at content in practice. Remember that little clip at the start of your legally purchased DVD that delays your enjoyment of the film you’ve paid to see to tell you about how you wouldn’t steal a handbag and thus should not steal a movie either? If you’ve been paying attention you should by now have spotted that these two things (the handbag and the movie) are not alike. If I steal a handbag it stops you from having it; if I download a movie from Piratebay, there is nothing that stops you from enjoying that same movie (either by getting it from Piratebay yourself or by forking out 20 quid at HMV or a fiver at Tesco’s). In other words, while handbags are rival, movies aren’t.

Go read the whole thing; valuable straight-talking information.

And while we’re talking economics and new paradigms of consumption and ownership, here’s a post that suggests (rather plausibly) that a whole new generation of lawyers will be needed in a world where sharing and cooperation among communities becomes a stronger economic force [via Chairman Bruce]:

The evolving nature of our transactions has created the need for a new area of law practice. We are entering an age of innovative transactions, collaborative transactions, crowd transactions, micro-transactions, sharing transactions – transactions that the legal field hasn’t caught up with, like: Bartering. Sharing. Cooperatives. Buying clubs. Community currencies. Time banks. Microlending. Crowdsourcing. Crowdfunding. Open source. Community supported agriculture. Fair trade. Consensus decision-making. Cohousing. Intentional Communities. Community Gardens. Copyleft.

At present, there is not much literature explaining the legal implications of these kinds of transactions. To those of us who have made this our area of practice, many of the legal questions in this new field sit unanswered on our giant to-do lists. One-by-one, client-by-client, we are making headway. As the ground swells with people adopting more sharing and cooperative work and lifestyles, we can look forward to a growing body of law and literature on the subject.

At the same time, the answers will never be clear cut, and lines we have grown accustomed to will be increasingly blurred.

Until we evolve a new set of legal definitions, we’ll dance uncertainly around the lines between “income” and “gifts,” between “own” and “rent,” between “employees” and “volunteers,” between “work” and “hobby,” between “nonprofit” and “for-profit,” between “invest” and “donate,” and so on. Our clients may have outside-the-box livelihoods and organizations, but it’ll still be the job of lawyers to help them fit into boxes that are traditional enough to comply with the law.

Well, there goes my naive hope for a future where there are no lawyers at all. Guess we really do take the lord of the flies with us everywhere we go, after all… 😉

Sci-Fi London 2010: much more than just a sci-fi film festival

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2010

This year’s Sci-Fi London film festival is the ninth event to bear the name. Running from Wednesday 28th April through Monday 3rd May 2010, and themed around the concept of “life in 2050”, it promises an even bigger line-up of world premieres and screenings of new, rare and obscure science fiction cinema from around the world than ever before. But in addition to all that celluloid goodness, there’s lots of other stuff going on, giving Sci-Fi London something of the feel of a more traditional science fiction convention (if that’s not a complete oxymoron).

Sci-Fi London 2010

For instance, the Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony is held early in the week of the festival, and this year (should you be lucky enough to get an invite) you’ll get to find out whether China Mieville gets to take home the prize a second time. But there are also numerous workshops and discussion panels going on over the course of the week, and I’m very proud to be able to say that yours truly has been invited to take part in some of them.

The full programme can be found on the Sci-Fi London website, of course, but in the interests of mild self-aggrandizement, here are the four panels I’m involved with:

  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 1pm: FUTURE PUBLISHING? – The publishing industry is coming under assault from all sides. Are Kindles, iPads and smartphones signalling the end of traditional paper publishing? Customers no longer believe publishers can justify the prices they charge, not just for books, newspapers, magazines and periodicals are also suffering. How will the publishing industry re-shape itself for 2050? Will Apple and Google become the new big publishing houses? And if ubiquitous digital delivery means anyone can be a publisher, will we even need the big guns anymore? (PGR as panellist)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 2:15pm: THE 30-SECOND COMMUTE – 3D printing, rapid prototyping, offshore outsourcing, automation, evolutionary design software, expert systems, voice processing and synthesis… technologies, network economies and geopolitical shifts are currently making mincemeat out of many careers and jobs that have lasted for centuries. What will we be doing to earn a living in 2050; what will seem as archaic as a thatcher or fletcher does today? And what will fill the days (and pockets and bellies) of the unemployed? (PGR as moderator)
  • Saturday 1st May 2010, 5:45pm: MY FRIEND WENT TO 2050 AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS INDECIPHERABLE MIXED-MEDIA POST-POSTMODERNIST METAPHOR – What will the arts scene look like in 2050? What new (or old!) forms and mediums will be grabbing the headlines, filling our homes and galleries and concert venues and mobile devices? And how will their creators be making a living from it? (PGR as moderator)
  • Sunday 2nd May 2010, 5:15pm: THE FAITH WARS – The ideological square-off between religion and science is here to stay… or is it? Perhaps the dichotomy is a falsehood, and everyone will learn to live and let live. Or perhaps faith will become the fracture point of an energy-hungry civilization, a warring sphere of philosophies. What will we believe in 2050? Is believing that others should act according to our beliefs the fault that unites the two sides of the argument? (PGR as moderator)

If the topics for discussion look familiar, well, there’s a reason for that: I sent the Sci-Fi London organisers a bunch of ideas based on discussions we’ve had here at Futurismic, and they liked some of them so much that they decided to saddle me with steering the conversations in question… how’s that for karma, eh?

In fact, I’m rather awed by some of the pundits and thinkers I’ll be appearing with – that Faith Wars panel features not only the afore-mentioned China Mieville, but also Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondant for The Times; Steve Fuller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick; and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association. It promises to be a lively (if not outright contentious) debate, that’s for certain, and I’m really looking forward to it.

(Although, to be honest, I’m also bricking it somewhat; one opinionated and scruffy webzine publisher attempting to ride herd on four super-sharp intellectuals should be a sight worth seeing, if only for the LULZ. Maybe they’ll video it, then screen it at next year’s festival? Be sure to bring popcorn!)

So, if you’re in or around London at the turn of the month, there’s no shortage of interesting diversions for the science fiction aficionado over the weekend – it’d be excellent to see some of you there. 🙂


Sarah Ennals @ 06-09-2009

Tropes - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]

Ray Kurzweil: the Movie

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2009

Via George Dvorsky, here’s the trailer for Transcendent Man, the forthcoming film about the life and work of Ray Kurzweil:

I’m pretty convinced that Kurzweil actually believes what he says, though only time will tell whether he’s right or not. However, this trailer doesn’t do much to disrupt Kurzweil’s image as a kind of pseudo-religious techno-prophet; disengaging from the subject matter and looking purely at the language and framing, it seems to set him up as a misunderstood Messiah, and that tends to fire up my instinctive BS detector much more than speculations on the developmental curve of technology.

What’s your take on Kurweil – deluded crank or visionary genius? Or something in between?

Neuromancer to be butchered for cinema?

Paul Raven @ 10-01-2008

Neuromancer promo image I have a bad relationship with the movie industry – they have a terrible habit of taking books I love and murdering them on screen. I had a rant about it when I first heard someone had optioned William Gibson’s Neuromancer, but Jason Ellis has just pointed out the fact that they’re actually casting it already.

Being somewhat detached from the cinema world, I have no idea who Hayden Christensen is, or whether he’d be any good as Case (or indeed as anyone). But there’s a microcosm example of why good books die when they leap to celluloid, in the commentary at this film fan site where Ellis found the news:

“I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never read NEUROMANCER and my rudimentary attempts to try and understand the plot have only confused me. But it seems very much a precursor to the Matrix with the book even referring to “the matrix.”” [my emphasis]

Face, meet palm. I’m guessing there’ll be a lot of explosions and bullet time to keep the slow readers happy. [Image lifted from linked article at]

Anyone care to suggest a book-to-film conversion that really worked, with the obvious (and in my opinion unique) exception of Blade Runner?

[tags]Neuromancer, William Gibson, movie, film[/tags]