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“Business As Usual, During Alterations.”

If you are interested in figuring out how to handle digital rights management and just recompense for work that is easily replicable by electronic methods, then you absolutely need to read a science fiction story from 1958 called “Business As Usual, During Alterations,” and written by Ralph Williams*. I will give you the short version: Earth society is given a matter duplicator by Alien Space Bats, for the express purpose of utterly destabilizing our scarcity economy. It succeeds in doing so, but does not actually destroy the larger society: it instead more or less immediately transforms it into a society passed on an abundance economy, with remarkably little change in larger institutions. The ones on ground level have to scramble like all get-out to adapt and survive, of course – and they largely do, once they learn to accept the fact that the rules have changed, and that no amount of complaining will change those rules back.

The relevance to our modern situation should be obvious, of course – it’s apparently really obvious to people teaching economics – but I’ll spell it out: we are no longer in a world where you can totally control the distribution of our most popular kinds of art (movies, books, games). If it exists in digital form, it can be pirated; and if you try to sell a digital work for the same price as you would a physical copy, it will be pirated. This is not an endorsement of any particular moral stance; it is an description of basic observed reality. However nice the old economic model was for people – particularly the distributors – it’s not the current economic model, and attempting to operate under the old rules will ultimately fail.

So freaking adapt to the new rules. There is a lot of money to be made in a system where raw materials are readily available and production costs have sunk through the floor**. And you can always sell swank.

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*First link.

**Some people argue that it’s no cheaper to make a book now than it was in, say, 1980. Alas, that argument always comes across to me as tacitly saying that they like the way that books were made in, say, 1980; and they don’t want to switch to a cheaper production/distribution model.

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