Everybody keeps wanting to know how we can save the software industry, the newspaper industry, and so on. Everybody keeps asking how record labels can make money in the Internet age, and how software vendors can make money in the age of open source software.
The simple answer is that they can’t. This doesn’t mean we should try to stop the Internet and open source development communities from spreading and overtaking such industries. It’s going to happen.
The questions we should be asking are quite different: How will musicians make money when RIAA labels start failing? How will programmers make money when software vendors collapse under the weight of their own business models?
How does a professional writer make money writing when magazines, newspapers, and even online media publications that use modified traditional business models disintegrate beneath their feet?
I can always speculate, of course. There are options like donationware, a return to live performance, service and support, and advertising (though ad revenue will likely produce less and less revenue over time). That’s not my point, though.
My point is that I shouldn’t be one of a very few people considering these questions, speculating about such answers. My point is that there are a lot of people out there who should be thinking about this kind of thing but, instead, are still trying to figure out how to prevent people from copying what’s free to copy, distributing what they create without having to go through a “professional” social gate, and in general hanging on to already obsolete business models by the skin of their teeth, the deviousness of their lawyers, and the lobbying power of their representatives in the political halls of power.
This is the influence of our mercantilist economy at work, by the way. Corporate law bends market advantages far more toward large, collective entities than is really natural. As a result, we end up with bureaucratic, risk averse organizations suffering from an institutionalized, in some sense ethical, requirement for what amounts to sociopathic behavior (see Corporate Responsibility for more detail) as the most powerful entities in the economy. As an organization built around such rules of operation grows in size and dominance, it becomes increasingly wedded to the status quo, because any major changes will perforce be increasingly to the benefit of upstarts that might unseat the current market leaders.
We need to ask different questions, as individuals, in part because we need to learn to undermine the power held by those centralized repositories of economic and political power. Such power centers in the economy are, almost tautologically, the very fonts of resistance to technological advancement.
The more we can figure out how to make money in new ways, leveraging the changing realities of our economy rather than trying to resist them, the more we can drain away the power held by the larger, more calcified organizations. Let us compete on our own merits, rather than contributing to the continued dominance of dinosaurs interested only in maintaining control of their dominant market positions as completely as possible.
(quote attributed to Gordy Thompson)