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Sunday, July 12, 2009

From 1995: Esther Dyson on Monetizing Creative Content

There's a review of Chris Anderson's new book 'Free' in the NY Times today that references a fifteen-year old article (in Wired, it turns out, which Anderson now edits) by Esther Dyson, the investor and tech forecaster.

I tracked down the original piece, 'Intellectual Value,' published in July 1995, and it is an incredible read (you might call it a book proposal for Anderson's book, written a decade and a half early).

Dyson wrote:

    ...Creators will have to fight to attract attention and get paid. Creativity will proliferate, but quality will be scarce and hard to recognize. The problem for providers of intellectual property in the future is this: although under law they will be able to control the pricing of their own products, they will operate in an increasingly competitive marketplace where much of the intellectual property is distributed free and suppliers explode in number.

    ...What should content makers do in such an inverted world? The likely best course for content providers is to exploit that situation, to distribute intellectual property free in order to sell services and relationships. The provider's vital task is to figure out what to charge for and what to give away - all in the context of what other providers are doing and what customers (will grow to) expect.

It's an amazing piece of futurism.

Update: Virginia Postrel, author of the book review that ran yesterday, points us to the original version of Dyson's essay, which ran in her Release 1.0 newsletter in December 1994. It includes this pretty scary (and prescient?) passage:

    In entertainment and art, there will be unique content, but pricing as a whole will trend downwards as more and more creators compete for attention using low-cost, easy-to-use production tools. More artists will find their audiences within their local communities -- geographical or net-based -- rather than hit the big time. Local barriers to entry will be low, but global competition will be strong. There's the odd movie star or work of art for which no substitute is acceptable, but most entertainment is a way of spending time -- not a unique experience.

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  • Prophetic.

    By Blogger GBH, at 4:16 PM  

  • It was actually published originally in 1994, in Dyson's newsletter.

    By Blogger Virginia Postrel, at 8:19 PM  

  • Virginia-

    Thanks for clarifying. Interesting that all the back issues of Release 1.0 are online (for free) courtesy of O'Reilly (though not in searchable form):

    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 7:55 AM  

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