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The price of freedom: Reinventing the online economy (RSA Journal July 2009)

Logo-rsa I was delighted to be invited to make a contribution to the RSA Journal's July 2009 edition, the printed version of which was just send out I believe, and the online edition that just went up on their website.

The complete title of my piece is: "The price of freedom – reinventing the online economy: Gerd Leonhard explains why ‘free’ content can still pay in the long term" and I really enjoyed writing this for them.

Following my last presentation at the RSA, in April 2009, on 'The Future of Content and Creativity' I have had many good conversations about this topic. The audio track from this event is here, btw; and the video is embedded again, below. Enjoy. And RT;)

I definitely recommend that you check out the other great features in the Juy 09 RSA journal, as well, there's some great gems in there.

Update (January 10, 2010):

English Version as downloadable PDF: Download RSA Gerd Summer 2009

German Translation by Rainer Classen : RSA German Translation: Preis der Freiheit

Spanish Translation by Carlos Perez Vellila: Spanish Price of Free RSA

Italian Translation by Federico Ciappi: Download Il prezzo della libertà RC1

You can read the entire thing on the RSA page, so here is just an excerpt:

Free iStock Photo freemium "Free information, free music, free content and free media have been
the promises of the internet (r)evolution since the humble beginnings
of the World Wide Web and the Netscape IPO on 9 August 1995. What
started out as the cumbersome sharing of simple text, grainy images and
seriously compressed MP3s via online bulletin boards has now spread out
to every single segment of the content industry – and even into
‘meatspace’ (real-life) services such as car rentals. Without a doubt,
‘free’ has become the default expectation of the young web-empowered
digital natives and now the older generations are jumping in, too.

On
top of the already disruptive force of the good old computer-based
Web1.0, we are witnessing a global shift to mobile internet – a WWW
that is, finally, so easy to use that even my grandmother can do it.
While five years ago, we needed a ‘real’ computer tethered to a bunch
of wires to port ourselves to this other place called ‘online’ and
partake in global content swapping, now we just need a simple smart
phone and a basic data connection. With a single click of a button,
we’re in business – or rather, in freeloading mode. 

As users,
we love ‘free’; as creators, many of us have come to hate the very
thought. When access is de facto ownership, how can we still sell
copies of our creations? Will we be stuck playing gigs while our music
circles the globe on social networks, or blogging (now: tweeting) our
heart out without even a hint of real money coming our way?

Daunting
as it may seem, we can no longer stick with the pillars of Content1.0,
such as the so-called fixed mechanical rate that US music publishers
are currently getting ‘per copy’ of a song ($0.091). Nobody knows what
really defines a copy any longer when the web’s equivalent of a copy
(the on-demand play of that song on digital networks) may be occurring
hundreds of millions of times per day. No advertiser, no ISP and not
even Google has this kind of money to pay the composer (or rather, the
publisher), at least not until the advertisers start bringing at least
30–50 per cent of their global US$1 trillion marketing and advertising
budgets to the table.

Price of freedomTraditional
expectations and pre-internet licensing agreements are exactly what are
holding up YouTube’s deals with the music rights organisations such as
PRS and GEMA: this is what the rights organisations used to get paid
for the music that is being copied, and this is what they want to get
paid now. This impasse is causing significant friction in our media
industries worldwide. Yet, below the top-line issue of money, there
lurks an even more significant paradigm shift: the excruciating switch
from a centralised system of domination and control to a new ecosystem
based on open and collaborative models. This is the shift from
monopolies and cartels to interconnected platforms where partnership
and revenue sharing are standard procedures. In most countries,
copyright law gives creators complete and unfettered control to say yes
or no to the use of their work. Rights-holders have been able to rule
the ecosystem and, accordingly, ‘my way or the highway’ has been the
quintessential operating paradigm of most large content companies for
the past 50 years.

Enter the internet: now the highway has become
the road of choice for 95 per cent of the population, the attitude of
increasing the price by playing hard to get is rendered utterly
fruitless. Like it or not, a refusal to give permission for our content
to be legally used because we just don’t like the terms (or the entity
asking for a licence) will just be treated as ‘damage’ on the digital
networks, and the traffic will simply route around it. The internet and
its millions of clever ‘prosumers’, inventors and armies of
collaborators will find a way to use our creations, anyway. Yes, we can
sue Napster, Kazaa or The PirateBay and we can whack ever more moles as
we go along. We can pay hundreds of millions of dollars to our lawyers
and industry lobbyists – but none of this will help us to monetise what
we create. The solution is not a clever legal move, and it’s not a
technical trick (witness the disastrous use and now total demise of
Digital Rights Management in digital music). The solution is in the
creation of new business models and the adoption of a new economic
logic that works for everyone; a logic that is based on collaboration,
on co-engagement and on, dare we mention it, mutual trust – an
ecosystem not an egosystem. Once we accept this, we can start to
discover the tremendous possibilities that a networked content economy
can bring to us.  

Free, feels-like-free and freemium

Much
has been written on the persistent trend towards free content on the
net. It is crucial that we distinguish between the different terms so
that we can develop new revenue models around all of them. ‘Free’ means
nobody gets paid in hard currency – content is given away in return for
other considerations, such as a larger audience, viral marketing
velocity or increased word of mouth (or mouse). I may be receiving
payment in the form of attention, but that isn’t going to be very
useful when it’s time to pay my rent or buy dinner for my kids. Free
is… well, unpaid, in real-life terms.

 ‘Feels-like-free’, on
the other hand, means that real money is being generated for the
creators while their content is being consumed – but the user considers
it free. The payment may be made (ie sponsored or facilitated) by a
third party (such as Google’s recently launched free music offering in
China, Top100.cn); it may be bundled (such as in Nokia’s innovative
‘Comes With Music’ offering, which bundles the music fee into the
actual handsets) or the payment may be part of an existing social,
technological or cultural infrastructure (such as cable TV or European
broadcast licence fees) and therefore absorbed without much further
thought. Feels-like-free could therefore be understood as a smart way
to re-package what people will pay for, so that the pain of parting
with their money is removed or somewhat lessened – everyone pays,
somehow, but the consumption itself feels like a good deal…."     Read on.  PDF: Download RSA – The price of freedom Gerd Leonhard July 2009

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