Today I ran across an article called “File sharing: Piracy or activism?” by Open Attitude blogger Andrew Currie. This is a legitimate question that we as a community have the responsibility and duty to decide on. The answer however may not be as unreachable as we think. In fact, I will reveal it very soon. The solution comes with a slight shift in the perspective of conventional thinking. The method is to seek out any problems that arise given the circumstances, in order to determine what a successful design should include. The problem here is simple and I think can be best explained by one of the comments that was in response to that blog article, by Reddit user PhastPhoodPhool:
“When you start likening manufactured objects and digitally reproduced data as objects of value, then you have already presented an ethical dilemma. How can you charge full price for something that is free to reproduce? That is why it is so easy to download. It only represents a loss if you otherwise would have realistically paid for whatever you’re downloading. The whole side of the copyright holders is totally impartial to the facts.”
So though this is a serious problem, it can be resolved relatively easily given the circumstances. This is where the shift of perspective comes in. Because it is obvious that no one will pay for something when they don’t have to, and it costs nothing for the provider when we download, we can use these principles to construct a new system that takes advantage of these trends/facts, and provides a model that will allow the content providers to get paid directly, while their beneficiaries (file sharers) enjoy guilt free and unlimited free access to their favorite content, on demand.
The solution is (drum roll) Ad Revenue, but not just any ad revenue. There are still serious problems with the current standard ad models online today, and these problems too have been well established. It is time for a change. The new model must address these problems head on, namely obtrusive, distracting, and misleading ads horribly placed next to the content. The solution…small icons/logos placed strategically within the most popular features of a website. For example imagine the Pandora player without the huge half-page ads, and instead, only with one small coke bottle icon in the top left corner. The ad could even have a feature where if the cursor rolls over it, it expands to a small box to reveal a special offer, and then it collapses again once the cursor rolls away.
The benefits of this may not at first be obvious, but they arise with closer observation. The icons being placed within popular functions, like audio or video players, give the ads more visibility, because the areas housing them will not be avoided. Secondly, the icons actually serve a purpose to the consumer as well, in allowing them to get their favorite content for free. The goal would be for companies to link up directly with the most popular content creators, at a scalable price range dependent on hits, so that eventually those companies develop substantial credibility with an artist’s fans, for sponsoring their potential customer’s favorite content. This could be a smart long-term move for many brands out there in the future. It would also be optimal if the platform which supported this model would take the minimum fixed rate for the services of implementing and placing the ads, and pass on the bulk of the revenue to the true value creators.
This system legitimately fixes the problem of file sharing being detrimental to the artist’s careers and the content’s quality and safety. Instead of an artist releasing their music for sale, it getting sold once before it appears on a torrent site, and the artist losing track of how many times, how and when their fans listen to their music (not to mention money), they can choose to give their music away for free as a full quality secure download, and then can not only track when their song is played or shared, but they can track things like visits to their merchandise store, profile views, video views, live streaming performance views, ect, all closely linked to the music download, and they can record these numbers to negotiate for advertising revenue once a fair peak in popularity is reached. These revenues, in addition to merchandise sales, ticket sales for both on and offline shows, and the possible sale of sample components from an artist’s songs, gives independent artists a whole new batch of revenue streams, waiting to be tapped and exploited.
So you may think that’s it…all problems solved…Well, not yet. The other problem artists will have in order for this system to truly work is promoting their music. How do they distinguish themselves amongst the barrage of artists which consumers will have access to? The answer comes from a bit of creative thinking and information fusion. It’s a mix between a social network and a discovery engine. For those that don’t know, a discovery engine is a tool that finds relative content for a user, based on certain criteria that the user enters, such as tags or blog categories. Good examples in this case would be Pandora and Twitter. Both are discovery engines, and both make their user’s lives easier by (supposedly) bringing the users to the content they want. However, especially with Pandora, these systems can be flawed. Depending on the type of input the user gives, and the way the site processes it, results can vary heavily. For independent artists, the solution must go beyond entering just a favorite artist or a genre. These criteria are far too limiting. Even with Twitter, the results you get are dependent on the people that you follow. You must make sure you follow only people that you feel you can trust for credible content. For music, there must be a system, similar to Twitter, where I can follow people that I share a taste in music with (friends, favorite artists, ect.) and any music that is in their playlists will automatically get sent to my radio player, at random, or to my specifications. I should be able to create different radios and assign different friend’s playlists to each one, assign genre limits on individual playlists, and decide which playlists I want to give priority, and by how much. This takes the concept of song recommendation and uses social influences to filter the content, rather than using the physical properties of the content itself. After all, the content is better defined by its meaning to society, rather than by its physical attributes.
The real beauty in this system is that it saves me from a lot of unnecessary filtering and searching myself. If my best friend liked a song enough to put it in his playlist, then I am certain that I will like it too. Also, if I like a song enough to put it into my playlist, anybody who is following me will automatically get introduced to the song as well. For good music, this makes its spread amazingly automatic and viral. Also I would not be bound to one genre per radio, or one particular sound all together. It allows the variable nature of our lives to be reflected in the radios we listen to. Speaking of which, this system resembles very much the principles of Mother Nature, ie “only the strong survive.” This social spread of the music also mimics the role of bees when pollinating flowers, spreading the lifeblood of the industry to all that will enjoy its fruits. It’s because of these side effects that lead me to make the conclusion that this is simply the best system we could possibly hope for.
One of the most incredible things about the Internet is how easily adaptable it is, and it’s ability to integrate innovations extremely quickly. It will take nothing more to complete the transition than for a website with these features to simply go live and market itself correctly, in order for these changes and benefits to be realized. I am very happy and proud to say now that a website with these systems is going to be in beta very soon. It is called Beat-Play and I am the Founder and President. I’m also 21 years old and a college dropout/independent artist myself; so I have all the proper credentials necessary to really make this thing work, besides an extremely dedicated and inspired staff of trained professionals and some amazingly cool sponsors. Release is scheduled for March/April 2010. It will basically be an empty store when we launch, but we already have the support of over 200 independent artists from all over the world, thanks to our promotional site http://MusicWithoutLabels.com. Anyone can sign up to beta test there, and we will contact you as soon as the beta is live.
These are exciting times for Internet users, and independent artists, like myself. It’s far due time we make our lives easier by building comprehensive tools that solve our biggest problems. Remember, for every problem you see, you’re also staring the solution right in the face, whether you know it or not. With the Internet, we can implement the changes we need with incredible speed. Get ready for an amazing journey towards a better and brighter future; it’s literally just around the corner.
Written by: Dante Cullari - Founder & President Beat-Play, LLC