Anne (netmouse) wrote,

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Paradigms of commerce in the digital age

I wrote up a lot of babble in an email just now about how commerce should restructure to pay content and value producers directly instead of (or in addition to) being based on distribution of copies (as replication of information has little inherent cost)...

...That reminds me of a long-ago campaign that got set aside for other projects. I've been meaning to partner with Paypal to set up a system that lets people easily send money to content providers. hmmm... maybe I'll get on that again. This fall if I'm not burned out on conventions I'll go to Windycon and meet Bill Holbrook, the author of the online strip "Kevin and Kell". I remember way back when I first convinced Bill that he had to make it possible for people to give him money without buying any *stuff*. Since then online comics have developed an established sponsorship format (see for example). It would be fun to walk up to Bill and introduce myself and see if he remembered when I did that (we were talking about it in email and then to prove my point I sent him money through paypal. Ah the heady early days of paypal before they diversified account definitions)

I remember a while ago my friend Pete Abrams was finding it hard to keep going doing Sluggy Freelance full time and he sent out an appeal on his web site and got a year's income in a week or so in donations. That works best, of course, if you have a site with a dedicated following. But you might be surprised how many people give donations at various times if word gets around. Not that you necessarily want to broadcast your problems to the world but... *shrug*. A friend of mine raised $1,800.00 last year in order to afford surgery for her cat who had cancer, a third of it through a paypal donation site. Neil posted that "Omaha the Cat Dancer" author Kate Worley was sick, and the donations before and following her death were so great that her partner finally asked for a follow-up post to request that donations stop (or get redirected to a specific charity).

In general (and this is part of what I was arguing to Bill Holbrook way back when) I think society needs to transition to a commercial model of supporting the producers/sources of stuff rather than (or in addition to) paying for copies of stuff. In the digital age, multiplying copies of things and distributing them has a minimal real cost or value associated with it. Society continues to attach an enforced cost because that's our only structure by which the people in the system get paid. But what if you got paid every time someone read something by you and liked it enough to pay you for it, in addition to every time someone purchased a brand new copy of it? or perhaps instead? the existing paradigm for things like books and music is to pay for them pre-consumption. This is changing due to people like Cory Doctorow and Janis Ian and online distribution of content. People are able to try things out, find out if they're actually worthwhile, and then go get a copy if they want a copy.

I think it should also be very easy to pay money to an author or artist *whether or not* you acquire a copy of the thing they produced. This is part of why it's great that tools are developing that make it easy to scan an isbn # and input it to a website - you don't have to own an ebook of something in order to have a computer interface be associated with it - you can take advantage of existing scanning technology to interface your book with your existing home computer. People are using this to catalogue their book and DVD collections right now, and keep track of loaning them out to people and such. What if a person who had borrowed a book could with one click indicate that they enjoyed it and thus send you (and perhaps the publishers) some money? If it was easy, and if the paradigm shifts the way I think it's shifting, I think a lot of people would. Just like people currently buy books new in order to encourage the production of more books. It should be possible to encourage the production of the content over and above encouraging the production and distribution of a particular medium.

Some of us have enough *stuff* and don't necessarily want more. The other day at a concom meeting Susan was promoting her kid's school fundraiser - a great deal on some tupperware. Roxanne said "can I just support them and *not* get anything?" and there was a murmur of agreement and amusement that went around the room.

Also, note that when someone can't afford the whole cost of something new, they often avoid the cost all together by getting it from the library or from a friend. But they might be able and willing to pay some fraction of the cost. linking payment to *you* to purchases of something new produces a unit threshold below which people can't pay *you* for having written something. This is part of why the paperback book industry exists, to provide a lower threshold later. But in the digital age, where money is just numbers in the information network, people should be able to pay you any amount, any time. No threshold.

And when I read a book I love for the tenth or eleventh time, I really do wish I had an easy way to drop the author a note and some money and say "Hey, this means a lot to me." Admitedly, doing so is probably possible through the publisher, assuming the publisher is still in business, by sending a check, I guess. But that costs money and materials in addition to time, and it involves uncertainty. Maybe I should suggest to Tor that they should set up a section on their website for people to give money to their authors and editors... that would be cool. It would have administrative and especially start-up costs. But it would be cool.
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