Access

Sometimes I worry that my enthusiasm for the changing landscape for intellectual property will be mistaken for disparagement of the old and endorsement of the new. But it isn’t meant to be either. I’m fine with the way things used to be, and I’m fine with how they will be in the future regardless of the final form. My only concern is: can I work with this? The answer is always yes. And my excitement is strictly due to the fact that a changing landscape presents new possibilities—and therefore new opportunities.

I keep a mental rolodex of ideas which intrigued me when I first ran across them but, for one reason or another, weren’t right for the time. Years back I read an interview with Esther Dyson, a tech guru who charged thousands of dollars per year for a subscription to her newsletter. Yet she also gave away old copies of the newsletter for free. Her thinking was that subscribers were not paying for the newsletter so much as for timely access to it.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence here. In more affluent days I didn’t hesitate to buy a hardback copy of a book I really wanted to read, even though I knew that I could have the book for about one-fifth the price if I would just wait a few months until it was remaindered. Now I buy through AbeBooks, where I generally pay $1 (plus $3 shipping) for a nice hardback copy, remaindered or used. If the book is too new to be available there, I wait. In some cases copies never become available, in which case I’ll turn to the library or go without. I’m no longer willing to pay much for access.

But some people are. And I wonder if it might be one way that writers and musicians might be able to make some money while still making their works available for free. Perhaps True Fans would be willing to pay a bit for early access to material that they know full well would be available for free if they only waited. For Esther Dyson’s subscribers the excuse may have been competitive advantage, but the real reason was likely the desire to be “in the know,” part of the club. Maybe writers and musicians could have clubs like that too.

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