Monday, December 14, 2009

Futurist supports the "for free" business paradigm

The January-February 2010 issue of The Futurist, always pretty conspicuous at Barnes & Noble, has a paradoxical article on p 34, “The Post Scarcity World of 2050-2075”, by Stephen Aguillar-Millan, Anne Feeney, Amy Oberg and Elizabeth Rudd.

The most provocative portion is their exposition of the free-content business model (“The Post Scarcity Company”, p 36). It’s a little hard to see how this sustains itself in their logic – like offering premium versions for charge (imdb does that). Well, ironically, The Futurist does this: to see this article online, you have to purchase the PDF at its main link and that link may not easily find it forever. A lot of the “for free” paradigm comes from the reproducible nature of digital media, providing a great challenge to old line media businesses that want to encapsulate the media with a veneer of both “professionalism” and finiteness. The RIAA is losing its fight over its old fashioned view of copyright, the authors believe.

We actually see the “for free” concept all the time. Emerging musicians go through years of practice and giving free recitals before they can earn a living from their art. In fact, going to school and then internship is a “for free” concept. But it’s supposed to be followed by the real thing. Too bad, during recessions, people are sometimes counseled to work for free.

But “knowledge management” has become a largely “for free” public good. Generally, then it can provide a living or job for relatively small numbers of people (like the staff of Wikipedia) until companies like the big boys today bring advertisers in to support it. Doing so can introduce bias and compromise the presentation of "objective truth." But ultimately, people have to pay for something.

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