Alex Kauffmann

The news resounds with corporate clamoring for \”monetization,\” looming threats of paywalls raised to protect the profits of media conglomerates, and proprietary devices and formats to keep pirates at bay. Publishing is on its deathbed and the movie and record industries are not far behind—soon everything will be homemade and of unreliable quality, or so we are told. The problem these corporations face seems to me to arise from the ubiquity and accessibility of content. It\’s not that people don’t want to pay for movies or books or music or news, it\’s that the ease of acquiring and storing them has created a situation in which finding is more valuable than possessing—you can download anything at any time, provided you know where to find it.

And it\’s more than just \”why pay for something you can get for free;\” the complete physical dematerialization of information decreases the feeling of its monetary worth. People buy songs from the iTunes store and e-books from Amazon because they are tied to physical devices; they subscribe to Netflix and and buy boxed software because it\’s more convenient than searching for and downloading \”free\” versions. But they aren\’t paying for movies and music and books and software; they\’re paying to have something to listen to on their iPods and something to read on their Kindles, they\’re paying because they aren\’t aware of bit torrent or can\’t be bothered to use it or are afraid of having to face a big corporation in court. In this situation, what happens to the value of the content itself? Can we still translate it into monetary terms or does the success of the open source movement suggest that the terms of the discussion must fundamentally change?

This is the question I have spent the last three months exploring. By considering the value of digital content from the viewpoints of its creators, distributors, and users, I wanted to arrive at some unexpected conclusions that may or may not have practical applications. Additionally, I hoped that I\’d have an epiphany while working on one of the component projects of my thesis that would focus my work further and lead to an original and entertaining formulation of value. I may have done some or all of those things, but I\’m not telling till Thesis Week!

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010