Kevin Kelly wrote a post that really got my brain twisting. His root claim is “The net makes digital copies free, so value lies only in things that can’t be copied.” Then he lists 8 uncopyable “generatives” that people can still use to make money in the digital age. Not exactly true, (especially the way he completely dismisses copyright) but I think I smell some truth in the mix.
The net doesn’t make copies free. It makes digital copies cheap in the same way that the industrial revolution made manufactured copies cheap, and we’re experiencing the same sorts of problems. When you can produce a hat for a nickle, how do hat-makers survive? When you can reverse engineer someone else’s work and reproduce it, how does a company stay in business? That’s why we invented patent and copyright. We’re working on something equivalent for the net, but we’re not there yet. So, in the meantime, what’s a blogger to do? How do artists make money on the net when their work can be digitized and copied for “free”?
Ubiquitous and infinite as it feels, the net is still locked in time and space and governed by people. That’s the root reason some things still have value. Here’s my attempt at charting the edges of the internet. The old maps say “Here there be monsters.” This one says, “Here lies opportunity.”
The limits of Place: There’s still only one of me, I live in only one place, and I like stuff. I still value:
- Having a wow experience: a concert. a book signing
- Locality: news, traffic, and weather reports that impact my life.
- Delivery: close enough for me to fetch, to my door
- Personalization: made to order, autographed
- Authenticity: It’s real. I can prove it.
- Rarity: Stuff is inherently rare and that rarity will always increase with time.
The limits of Time: Your digital content may move at the speed of light, but I’ve got lots to do, and time is short. (or I’m lazy. whatever) I still value:
- Immediacy: Quick is good; Instant is better
- Customization: make it perfect for me, cut distractions/noise
- Interpretation: What’s it mean? How’s it work?
- Simplicity: I don’t think about my coffee cup. I drink out of it. Be the cup.
- Expertise: seeking a mentor, or maybe just a freelancer.
The Limits of Personality: You might never see me face to face, but I’m still human. I’m a social critter with an ego and dreams. I still value
- Priority: First in line or first to know. Beta testing. Pre-release copies.
- Prestige/Reputation: Check out my vendor rating!
- Power/Control: Give me moderator privileges. Let me pick your song set for the next concert.
- Patronage: reciprocity feels good.
Note: The value in each individual area may be small. Perhaps, they’d motivate me to spend time and attention, but not money. But if you combine them, things get interesting. Alexander van Elsas has a great post focusing specifically on that line where value becomes profit.
What if I’m not an artist? We’ll still pay to outsource work if we don’t have the time, talent, expertise, or inclination. We’ll still pay for necessities like food, shelter, clothes. We’ll still pay for things that lower our risks: health care, investments, insurance. If you combine any of these with some of the ingredients above, there’s opportunity for a small enterprise to compete with the big boys.
What about security, copyright infringement, aggregation, backups? I don’t list them here because I think they are problems inherent in the system and over time, we’ll get better and better at handling them. Right now, though, they’re great ways to make money.
What about trust, fulfillment, love? Where do these fit in? They don’t. Trust is earned, fulfillment discovered, love given freely or not at all. They influence how I buy, but they cannot be bought.
(edited for clarity, and to add a couple new links)