democratic panopticon

[This is a work in progress, and it will be either heavily edited (when I am less sleepy), or re-written and re-posted (possibly with better defined arguments). Let's just consider this one workshopping online.]

This post is heavily thematically linked with a previous one, titled Paparazzi Panopticism.

Thing one: Warren Ellis' Crooked Little Vein includes a character who discusses the idea of cellular phones with cameras as a weapon. Any they are, because it allows anyone to create content, news content, information content, disruptive content. If you want the speech, buy the book. Seriously. It's brilliant.

Thing two: My father, who has, over the years, gone from the kind of guy who buys a 286 and convinces his wife that it's good for the kids (which it shockingly was), to the kind of guy who dislikes that blogging gives anyone a platform to say anything, made a compelling comment over dinner. That a world where people have cell phone cameras is a world where corruption is harder to get away with.

These things got me thinking. The effect of everyone being about to record anything isn't the us vs them issue that so many people think it is. The Panoptic reality this creates isn't binary, there is a more complex dynamic than authority vs people. What we're left with instead is a democratised panopticon, where interpretation and evidence can come from all sides, and from all agendas.

The intriguing part of this, for me, is the subversion of the original theory. Panoptic realities are about people policing themselves in fear of an authority who may or may not be watching at any given time. But the current situation isn't just about authority. Now there is reasonable need to fear that any action that would offend a reasonably sized community will be shown, and you will be penalized socially for it, by that group, and groups affiliated.

To put it simply, this isn't just about being caught standing against the whims of authority, now. It's about the possibility of being caught, at any time, for any act deemed against society, or even peace in society. This is more involved than fighting authority, for one simple reason - a democratised panopticon is inescapable.

In terms of fighting authority, it's marvelous that someone can't be tasered needlessly without it being caught on film. Authorities should be held responsible for their actions, because they have power. The same can be said for celebrities, which justifies, to an extent, the concept of the paparazzi panopticon. But a democratic panopticon seems to bring with it a need to better define the limitations of acceptable behaviour, of what acts, statements or opinions are anti-social in a strong enough sense to require response.

Or will the standard reply be something to the tune of 'live like no one's watching'?

fixing subscription model music services.

I've already written at length about what I think Microsoft should do with the Zune. Go read it. It's surprisingly comment free for something I consider a solid piece of speculative strategy. This time, I'm talking about the issues that are keeping subscription based music services unpopular.

People don't like the idea of a subscription model music service, for many reasons. The foremost among them is the idea that they are renting the music, and that other services are offering them the ability to own it. This is undeniably correct in the sense that the music goes away. It's incorrect in the sense that most digital music retailers, including the behemoth iTunes Music Store, would disagree that they are offering to exchange ownership of digital music for money, and would instead say they are selling you a license to use a certain copy of a song a certain number of ways, on a certain number of devices. This is important, because ownership by definition includes actual control over the product. In either case, the user doesn't have it.

At least a subscription based service doesn't lie to you. And, truthfully, it offers you a better deal by leaps and bounds. That is more or less unimportant, however. The issue is public perception. And people care about the fact that the music will go away if they stop paying.

The solution to this is offering a buy-out option for users, something in the vein of a lease to own deal. However, you can't set a standard fee for this buy-out option, because 1) if the price is too high, it may as well not exist. The same price as an individual download is too high, if the user is already paying a sub fee, and 2) if the price is too low, people will sign up and download insane amounts of music in one month, paying the cost at the end of the month, because it will be cheaper than individual downloads.

If, however, the cost of buying out tracks downloaded on a subscription basis decreased over the length of the subscription, there is both a sense of security that you CAN own your music if you decide the service isn't your thing anymore, and a solid reason to stick out the subscription long enough for it to become habit. If, for the first month, buy-out costs the same as an individual download, this is reasonable. Anything less, and the retailer will get screwed. But if the price per song for buy-out decreases over time, then it becomes a good deal. Six months into a subscription, and the buy-out cost could be half the price of a download, approx 50 cents. A year in, 25. Eighteen months, 7 cents, etc.

Obviously, the price drop over time would have to be calculated to take into account the revenue generated by the service per user, as well as the amount of downloading that takes place for the average user. But it offers all of the benefits of a subscription model service, while dealing (at least somewhat) with one of the major drawbacks.

If you wanted to get really difficult, you could offer whole or partial rebates of the subscription cost for the first few months, if a user bought out all songs. This also removes some of the fear that a subscription model service will be forcing you to pay twice for the same music. If you decide to buy-out at full price, getting 2 months subscription fees off of your total purchase means no net loss for testing the service.

And if you have a good product, getting people to test the service is more valuable than anything.



I've been reading a lot about Kindle, Amazon's exciting new e-reader type device, and the same thing comes to mind every time a new e-book type device hits the market. Who cares?

I've read several books in electronic format. On a PDA, or on my laptop or (on one occasion) on the screen of an ipod nano, broken into chapters. The major reason any of these things happened? They only required a device I already owned, that did something else useful.

Am I going to pay 400 bucks to read blogs (only some blogs) in black and white on something that looks more or less like a speak and spell spray-painted white? Not when, for the same price, I can get something (still unforgivably restricted but) able to do substantially more (ipod touch anyone?)

I get that the idea of an e-reader is attractive. I understand the appeal. But if something is supposed to supplant the physical book, it should probably be a cross-over device. If carrying the book is too much hassle for someone, carrying a heavier electronic version is probably unlikely. [EDIT: I was wrong, it's actually pretty light]

The display technology has a lot of applications, but not in multi-media. It's more or less only functional for print.

No one wants to carry a device that can only deal with print, when you consider the other options available.


music is already free

Dear Music Industry,

There's something you need to understand, and you don't seem to be getting it. Someone has to tell you, and they have to say it in no uncertain terms.

Stop arguing that music cannot be free. Stop it. It doesn't matter what your justification is, whether it's that the Radiohead model (as it is apparently now known) devalues music for other, less wealthy bands, or whether it's just plain thievery, and nothing else should matter, it's irrelevant.

I'll say it slowly, because I'm obviously not talking to the smart kids: MUSIC. IS. ALREADY. FREE.

We can't go back in time. Bandwidth and Compression made Apple a force in it's industry again. These technological changes made file sharing reasonable. And it made free plausible, not as a business model, but as a reality that cannot be ignored.

It doesn't matter if you can't work your old business model in a world where music is free. It doesn't matter if you feel it devalues your work. It doesn't matter if you think this paradigm only rewards the ultra rich, or those with a dedicated fan base who will spend money without needing to, or whether it just plain bothers you.

Music is already free. The genie is not going back in the bottle, because the holy triumvirate of bittorrent, bandwidth, and compression all have legitimate uses. And not in the NRA style 'guns are for protection, too' legitimate use, but there are entire business models that are only viable due to these innovations.

Music is free. You can't change that, you have to work with it. Radiohead decided that might be an idea - ACCEPTING REALITY - and hoping that, considering it would leak anyway, a portion of fans would be willing to give them a couple of bucks for something that, within minutes of release, WAS FREE ANYWAY.

I'm sorry that a lot of people, Music Industry, are caught in a transitional period where old ways are failing and new ways are undefined. I'm sorry that old revenue streams are falling by the wayside. I'm sorry that so many of you equate changing sources of money with doom.

But it doesn't matter if I'm sorry.

Because music is already free, and you can't change that will anything, even an endless parade of frivolous lawsuits.

With more than a modicum of disappointment,

The Broken Gentleman


watching the sky fall

Does anyone else feel like we're living in the ends times of content ownership as a business model? I've blogged before on my stance on content ownership (and copyright ownership) as a failing-to-failed business model in music, as demonstrated by the good folks in the music industry. Content ownership is only directly useful to content creators - for anyone else it's just a bunch of unnecessary hassle that complicates content management. Fighting over who owns the music is less useful than offering a service that creators are willing to pay for, whether in percentage or in a flat fee.

The WGA strike though, makes this feel like the entertainment apocalypse. Never before have traditional content channels seemed any less useful.

Cost of entry costs what these days? Well, that depends on how you define it. Cost of a decent camera, actors, etc, can scale based on what you want to achieve. But the cost of eyeballs is higher, and infinitely relative. You can either buy them with quality (which is immaterial and transient) or you can buy eyeballs from people who have them (advertising). One is free, technically, and the other is ludicrously expensive. Such is life.

The current structure of the entertainment system is based on a lot of things, arguably chiefly among them star power. But the reason networks and studios developed a power base, is the cost of entry, both in terms of creating content, and distributing it.

The issue is, that system has been running on intertia. And now we've torn down the financial support, and the distribution channel. This strike is both about payment for new content channels, and impetus to improve them.

This is what people do when the world is burning down, they fight over scraps. DVD revenue scraps, online distribution scraps, whatever. The same thing will happen when the actors renegotiate. Then the directors.

It's the same thing that happened in the music industry - when the world is run by guys nearing retirement, there's a lot less risk in looting than in learning how to deal with a new world.

The only real advantages that the film and tv industry have is the experience. Physical albums failed as an art form, but the music still had value. So they were separated. And the industry bigwigs blamed piracy, which is a rational reaction to removing the value from a product. Think about TV, and Movies watched on DVD, or in theatres. Is your experience that much better than it is through illegal content channels? Is that difference something that would be fixed by better speakers, a larger screen or projector, and higher quality digital files?

Although you will never have a home theatre that is better than a movie, you could get one that is better experientially when you include the bullshit of the excessive cost, the ads, the fifteen minutes of crap before the film actually begins. Same deal with DVDs. The extras are nice, so is the image quality. But the often unskippable ads beforehand? I'd rather just take it.

If you want to make money in this situation, you need to offer an experience that beats free as a price. You can't do that by putting restrictions on things.

And you can't make money by pissing off the people who supply the transient and immaterial source of interest, the quality. Because buying eyeballs is popular enough that you need a better hook than omnipresence.