All around us is a storm, an intellectual property storm. Back when the ideas of copyrights and patents were first devised to simulate the arts and sciences, it would have been hard to see a future where the means of production would be trivial and scarcity was not an issue. And that’s where we are now. A strange place where the cost to produce culture is falling to ridiculously low levels, distribution is no longer a logistics issue and the consumers fund development of what they want.

Low Cost of Production

Not too long ago you needed huge capital to put out a music album. A huge studio with expensive equipment. A well-paid engineered to record the music, record pressing plants, trucks to send the physical product to retail, breakage, a whole marketing team… But music isn’t a product, it’s not even something tangible. Now anyone with a personal computer can make an album and put it on the Internet. They can then pimp themselves on forums and social media and see what public opinion thinks of them. We already have a few notable celebrities whose fame started on MySpace or YouTube.

Having book published used to be a big thing. You wrote your book and then sent it around to a handful of publishers and counted your rejection letters until someone would take a chance on you. Then you’d have your book edited and there would be a tussle to get the book into shape for mass-market. You’d get an advance and be expected to drum up support for the book out of your advance and due to the costing structure of book publishing, you’d rarely see a royalty check after the book’s release. You would effectively write a book for next to no compensation unless you sold ridiculous amounts and then you’d make your money in signing bonuses and not royalties.

Now you can write a book, edit it and stick it up on an online store and see pure profit. Writing a book has never been expensive, but getting it into a bookstore has been practically prohibitive. And the publishing industry has never enjoyed the ridiculous margins that music companies have nor their much larger markets. Publishing will be the first “sector” to disappear as its costs are near zero.

In the last decade video games budgets started rivaling blockbuster movie costs. Aging developers no longer want to be in perpetual crunch, but still wanted to put food on the table doing the things they love. And then along came the iPhone and the App Store. Developers now are choosing to leave companies developing AAA title to slow down and make more personal games. Making casual and mobile games require far less money and smaller teams than developing blockbusters and in turn don’t need huge sales to make money.

Low Cost of Distribution

It’s great to make a song, write a book or code a great game for next to nothing, but unless you can get it out to people it doesn’t matter. Along with cheap tools, came something that would devastate the cultural industries, the Internet. For a second, lets ignore piracy, which some feel is more akin to advertising expenses and not lost sales. The rise of a connected culture and the start of the iPod era meant that culture was no longer tied to physical distribution. iTunes is now the largest seller of music. You don’t need to have a fleet of trucks to deliver shiny discs. You don’t need warehouses to store books destined for your Kindle. You can’t touch anything you download onto your phone from an app store. If the cost to make culture dropped to trivial levels, th the cost to distribute culture basically ceased to exist. An online store may take a percentage cut, but there is no barrier to get into those stores or even sell it off your own website. Amazon has produced a few self-published millionaires without a book deal. Louis CK made a small fortune making his own comedy special only available on the ’Net. Jonathan Coulton, geeky song smith, supposedly made half a million dollars with no record deal.

iTunes killed the record store. Kindle is killing the book store. PSN will kill GameStop. We don’t need physical stores for virtual goods. If you are the retailer of soft culture your time is up, you have become unnecessary.

Democrazation of Direct Investment From Consumers

Fine, the music, publishing and even the game industry may have irrevocably changed and will soon be unrecognizable to what they used to be. But film still requires huge amounts of capital. Even a decent game requires significant investment if you want a polished end product. Unless you already have a great track record then self-financing is often out of the picture unless your last name is Lucas or Coppola.

Enter the final one-two for the death of the culture industry as we know it, Kickstarter and crowd-sourcing. Iron Sky, an upcoming movie, didn’t have lots of money to do the necessary special effects. They reached out to fans and asked them to donate their computer’s downtime to render their CG effects. And people did just that. People donated their own resources to help a project they wanted to see complete.

And if you really want to put your money where your mouth is then we have Kickstarter. Kind of a variant of a ransom model of distribution, Kickstarter allows the producer to go directly to the consumers to finance the project. There is no middle man and other than Kickstarter itself, there are no investment speculators. If Double Fine or Harebrained Schemes can get over a million dollars upfront from their customers then why do they need a distributor? They don’t. There is no intermediary, just a service bureau taking its fee. And films like Dust are starting to show up on Kickstarter. Sure Avatar 2 won’t be financed by Kickstarter, but smaller films much like the mobile games will start to show up. Films costing a million dollars partly self-financed and partly Kickstarted will show up. Buffy and BSG alumni Jane Espenson is directly funding a second season of her web TV show Husbands via Kickstarter.

Conclusion

If you work in the pop culture industry you have a lot to worry about, you are obsolete! If you are an artist then you are now in control of your own destiny. And the prevailing industry doesn’t want that, but it doesn’t matter because they are living on borrowed time. The future pop culture will be streamed by its creator directly to you its financier.

Iain McGregorBooksMoviesMusicTVVideo Gamesbooks,movies,MPAA,music,RIAA
All around us is a storm, an intellectual property storm. Back when the ideas of copyrights and patents were first devised to simulate the arts and sciences, it would have been hard to see a future where the means of production would be trivial and scarcity was not an...