I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you
I’ve got to break free
God knows God knows I want to break free
Just over 25 years ago at the first Hackers’ Conference, Stewart Brand the pioneering publisher of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog*, delivered his “Information wants to be free” manifesto. He then continued, “Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy and recombine — too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless, wrenching debate about price, copyright, intellectual property, the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.”
A quarter century later and devices are approaching $0. Smartphones and netbooks are being subsidized by carriers, Kindles are being promoted as a low cost alternative to paper pulp and bulk, and the tension is starting to concentrate on the distribution and the content. In relative terms, devices and bandwidth are approaching assymptotically approaching $0.
So has content won?
No, it is still being copied. At a much faster clip than photocopiers, audio cassettes and VHS tapes.
How is this tension going to be resolved?
Monetization. I hear it all the time. ‘Monetization’. Thrown freely about without meaning, used as a verb, adjective and noun as, when and how convenient.
But what does that mean? In reality, it means that somehow, somewhere a deal needs to be struck. A deal between between the content owner, the publisher and the technology ecosystem. Somewhere, someone has to pay. We have a ton of experts saying that the system is broken. Yes, the past is broken, but the future is yet to be invented. It is just that the way everyone gets paid is changing. And the way they get paid may mean that traditional business models cannot sustain their current cost base and/or modus operandi.
This is a time of change. But it ain’t going to be ‘free’ folks. As I have already said. Somewhere, somehow, someone has to pay.
Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.
*The Whole Earth Catalog was an American counterculture catalog that granted “Access to Tools” published by Stewart Brand between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998. Apple Inc. founder and entrepreneur Steve Jobs has described the Catalog as the conceptual forerunner of the World Wide Web.