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"If you love your content, set it free" ?

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Traditional business models have scarcity at their core: when something is scarce, it becomes valuable. Online, this notion is challenged: in a world where every one of us can copy and distribute content at the click of a mouse, notions of ‘scarcity’ become more and more distant from reality. Several commentators have suggested that scale – i.e. providing more access to ‘valuable’ content rather than less – is actually a more scalable business model for the online economy. This session will look at ways in which content can be freed, and will also examine some of the issues which follow around control and authority.

Traditional business models have scarcity at their core: when something is scarce, it becomes valuable. Online, this notion is challenged: in a world where every one of us can copy and distribute content at the click of a mouse, notions of ‘scarcity’ become more and more distant from reality. Several commentators have suggested that scale – i.e. providing more access to ‘valuable’ content rather than less – is actually a more scalable business model for the online economy. This session will look at ways in which content can be freed, and will also examine some of the issues which follow around control and authority.


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"If you love your content, set it free" ?

  1. quot;if you love your content, set it freequot; ?
  2. I am Mike Ellis I have spent 10+ years working on the [content] web I am a user experience zealot, strategist, social(web)-ist I work for a not for profit IT company called Eduserv
  3. first of all, a couple of things
  4. these slides will be online (and available under CC)
  5. this session is based around a question:
  6. “ if you love your content, set it free ” quot; ?quot;
  7. ..I’m not going to try and answer that question.
  8. instead, I'm going to consider the content and user landscape
  9. try and find some connections...
  10. ...and avoid getting into too much detail
  11. (yes, I’m a chicken)
  12. let's start right at the beginning ..and ask: “where does value come from?”
  13. even this isn’t straightforward
  14. for the most part, value is about scarcity
  15. rarer + more sought-after = higher value
  16. which means: if you have it, hide it
  17. ...and only provide when people pay
  18. this has been the value model for generations
  19. then the web came along.
  20. now the entire value landscape has literally been blown away
  21. the effectiveness of the network has devalued the distribution chain “It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves - the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public – has stopped being a problem.” Clay Shirky / “Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable”
  22. networks are getting faster / more ubiquitous, DRM is dead, hidden content is unpopular
  23. not to mention radical changes in users, too
  24. 1. search and find is everything 2. fickle, shallow, agile users 3. quot;digital nativesquot; (ug!) 4. quot;free is 'normal', right?..quot;
  25. models of ownership and consumption are changing “..for my generation you partly constructed your identity around what you owned - your bookshelf, record collection and DVD archive were important aspects of who you..but for the digital generation this strong link with ownership has been broken. It took time and money to build up any of those collections. Therefore they demonstrated a commitment which was worth exhibiting. In a digital world this effort is greatly reduced, and as a result so is the emotional attachment one feels towards them.” Martin Weller / “Ownership ain’t what it used to be”
  26. the music industry...
  27. less CDs, more digital music being sold “17 million fewer CD buyers in 2008 compared to the prior year” ZDNet UK: “CD sales drop, digital downloads on the rise”
  28. new (business) models are rampant
  29. ..illegal? yes. available (via Google)? yes.
  30. quot;Even ferocious litigation would be inadequate to constrain massive, sustained law-breakingquot; 
  31. newspapers..?
  32. according to Clay Shirky “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers...they are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to. There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.”
  33. which demands a radical(ish) response
  34. books?
  35. Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist “ In 2001, I sold 10,000 hard copies. And everyone was puzzled. We came from zero, from 1000, to 10,000. And then the next year we were over 100,000. [...] I thought that this is fantastic. You give to the reader the possibility of reading your books and choosing whether to buy it or not. [...] So, I went to BitTorrent and I got all my pirate editions… And I created a site ” called The Pirate Coelho.
  36. cultural heritage?
  37. similar issues around ownership, authority and tone of voice
  38. but really starting to understand the huge benefits of “we is better than me”
  39. ..and adding value for users
  40. the point?
  41. this isn't just a brief blip, after which we'll carry on as before
  42. this is serious, serious change
  43. revolution-style change
  44. what does living through a revolution mean?
  45. chaos, factionism, failure and emergence are prominent
  46. the prevailing direction of travel is becoming more clear:
  47. the evidence is starting to show that scale is more important than scarcity “There is more opportunity in leveraging the scale of the Web than trying to create scarcity. We’ve all been engaged in many attempts at creating scarcity [in digital music] and none of them have worked. Meanwhile, others have been leveraging the scale of the Web with great success. We should learn from this pattern and apply our energy appropriately.” Ian Rogers, ex-VP Yahoo! Music
  48. this means that letting go of the hold you have on your content becomes increasingly important
  49. the rise of the API as an example
  50. the world of linked data
  51. this is hard. after all, control and authority are what makes, right?
  52. well, maybe authority comes from the real, from authenticity
  53. and not (always) from a designed, understood, moderated pathway
  54. once we've realised that the important thing is our content and not where it is consumed, we should find it easier to let go..
  55. systems that are user-focused are the ones that will survive
  56. systems that are institution or industry focused are the ones that will fail
  57. access (not necessarily free, but it helps) is a Good Thing quot;Where some people have trouble is that those new opportunities may be in different places than the existing... ...the total amount that any content creator can capture is still much larger than it was before. It's one of those cases where getting 20% of a huge pie is much better than getting 90% of a tiny pie.quot; TechDirt: quot;The Grand Unified Theory On The Economics Of Freequot;
  58. let's be very clear: good things are happening
  59. Open API's Open Access Open Search
  60. but they're often being resisted “ sources suggest that ” compliance [with open access policy] remains low
  61. and are often weighed down by hugely complicated politics
  62. ..if there's one thing that doesn't work, it's complicated business models
  63. maybe we need to forget the original models
  64. ...or at least, radically simplify
  65. and focus on loosely joined
  66. if.. away PDF's of books increases book sales if.. ..streaming music for free increases other revenues if.. ..having an open API increases content reach
  67. where might we go?
  68. thanks for the free stuff: big finger me don't panic question castle mine trees and moon mine landscape connection tag cloud wordle chicken vertigo diamond valuable hidden cash crowd blur bifurcation suberbia robots fog baby lazy cds web2 newspaper book sea bored dogs revolution light direction easy silos opportunity good things openness resisted lights telegraph forget zen golden unknown
  69. and thank you for listening

Editor's Notes

  • Head of Web at The Science Museum
    Before that, Web Production at Waterstone’s Online
  • Before we get started...
  • Address at the end
    Also - will hope to have at least 5 minutes for talking / questions

  • ...instead, I’d like to think around the question - “riff” a bit on the theme

  • The main point is to take a step back from the journals / publishing sector and look at the rest of the world for a moment

  • Hopefully, this’ll be useful, and if not, thought provoking. And if not, just enjoy some time off :-)
  • There is a LOT of detail, history and existing business models around online (journal) publishing. I don’t really want to spend too much time looking at this detail
  • This is a complicated and emotive space.
    Business models, and hence jobs and futures are therefore obviously a part of the conversation
    Just remember, I’m not offering an answer, just posing some questions :-)
  • So let’s ask a big question..

  • ...if you have something which is valuable, and desired, hide it away
  • ..and you can then create some form of capital (financial, social) out of your assets
  • This is very familiar, very standard stuff. It is what drives commerce and businesses; from market stalls to the trading floor
  • The emergence of the web - not “the internet”, but the web that we are starting to see today - a web that is absolutely ubiquitous to our lives and being
  • ..things have changed beyond any kind of belief
  • Clay Shirky (author of seminal book “Here Comes Everybody”) focuses on the core issue of *content mobilisation* in this blog post
  • ..three main points about this: first, the network is only getting faster, more accessible and usable.
    Second - DRM has been hunted down and shot dead in a ditch. Third - hidden content (we’ll look at this in some more detail) is unpopular
  • Users are changing
  • ..also changing - the *way* that people use the web, and hence their content, too
    - search (mainly google, but in general) becomes the core starting point for...everything
    - users need rapid satisfaction - they are less likely to be faithful, more fickle
    - they are “natives” to the technology: absolutely familiar - it is “invisible”, as Tom Standage puts it
  • one of the consequences is that the *model of ownership* has changed because of all this. And this is in a way that “us old people” probably don’t understand!
  • One obvious place to look at this is in the music industry, which has suffered the digital generation more than most
  • Downloads are on the rise as the physicality of music drops off.
  • and particularly in this space, we’re seeing huge numbers of alternative business models - subscription, freemium, costing based on popularity, free! (seeqpod), social...
  • ...not forgetting illegal! But bear in mind this particular screenshot isn’t from some dark internet backwater, it is just from a specially formatted google search. And *is* it illegal?
  • ...more to the point - what does the industry DO about it? When everyone is a software pirate in (literally) two clicks of their mouse...
  • Newspapers have come under similar scrutiny, and have responded in many different ways
  • Clay Shirky again - his angle is that this is, effectively, the END of newspapers as we know them.
    Maybe the important point in this quote is the highlighted bit - the changes are far too rapid to cope with them
  • The Guardian has recently been in the headlines for opening up their content and data store via a freely available API. This is radical for publishing, but the norm now online: Amazon, eBay, Flickr, Google, Yahoo! to name but a few. More on API’s later.
  • Books are potentially in a similar space, although we still hang on to notions of physicality, and the fact that the content is more lasting than news makes them harder to let go of. I’ve got a wall full of books, and strongly resist thoughts of not. But we should still face up to the fact that this isn’t always going to be the same for everyone
  • Coelho, well known author of The Alchemist, did something interesting in this new climate. Much to his publishers’ horror, he put his books available for free on BitTorrent. And saw sales radically increase because of it...
  • over in museums and galleries...
  • very familiar landscape where the *authority* is what makes these places special
  • object wikis, open api’s, tags, user comments, etc
  • Powerhouse museum - use of API’s (and don’t forget the “Ray Oscilloscope” example)
  • So what’s the point, really?
  • Firstly, the most important thing I guess is that we need to recognise, however painful, the HUGE extent of this change

  • REALLY huge..
  • and that we are truly living through a digital content revolution - one which requires radical, revolution style responses
  • One of the most important hallmarks of this kind of change is *emergence*. The ideas which win through aren’t often the biggest or the best funded; they’re the ones which gain traction through ease of use. RSS is a prime example

  • In short: the evidence is starting to show, from many quarters, that providing more access to your content is actually beneficial from many, many angles. Startlingly, some of this evidence seems to show that more access = more sales...
  • This means - letting go of your content, setting it free..
  • I talk a lot about Web2, the “social web”. Mostly this is considered important because of the surface stuff - but under the hood, content is usually accessible, and this is arguably more important. Sometimes, 5-10 x the “surface” number of users are seeing content via an API
  • The enabler here is open, linked data.

  • This means not just from a “web usability’ perspective, but those that have been focused on the goals of individuals
  • ...and not on the goals of specific, partisan players in the industry
  • But these opportunities are *different*. They are challenging because they absolutely threaten the existing status quo. This is hugely unpopular, particularly where whole industries are in the frame
  • Coming back to journals - I think it’s absolutely the case that there are lots of positive signs
  • ...and these are some of them
  • ...albeit often resisted. This source (who’d rather remain anonymous) showed me a letter from a well known funder who recently wrote to universities warning that they’d be checking that OA guidelines were being followed...
  • Good though the open angles are, they are (like any embedded, older industry) surrounded by treacle-like politics.
    And this often leads to *really* complicated business models. Example: pay at publication / pay at use / self archive...!
  • Experience shows time and time again that complicated, “bolted-on” business models just don’t work.
  • This is obviously naive! - but pushing for bigger-picture strategies that take on board user experience and expectation seem to me to be required
  • At the very least, examine the pain points and try and simplify. Creation of open API’s would be a huge start!
  • Small pieces, open (web) standards, distributed systems

  • These are big ideas, and as such can be very challenging.

  • Symposium - Identity - Cameron Neylon Open Science
    21st May
    Evolution or revolution: The future of identity and access management for research