The new patron economy and its impact on events-Part 1

Patron economy media 144939792_7b9828a484_oOver the last twenty years we’ve seen the slow crumbling of business models relying on paying for atoms carrying the real article of desire: information. Once, being paid for cassettes, CDs, newspapers, DVDs, copy-protected software, and password-protected services was how “content providers” (such a soulless term!) made money. These schemes are dying wherever and whenever the cost to the consumer of playing buy-my-content-by-my-rules is greater than the cost of downloading the associated bits that have had their copy protection broken.

We’re in the middle of this transition. For example, right now, the paperback version of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love is outselling the ebook four to one, even though the ebook isn’t copy-protected and is half the cost of the paperback. So perhaps people still like physical books. I don’t expect things to stay this way for long.

A few years ago I got into a heated public argument with software freedom activist Richard Stallman about how I might be paid for the four years I spent writing my book. (At the end of his presentation, Richard complained that he had never spoken in front of a more combative audience. We took this as a compliment.) When Richard told us we should give our content away, I asked him why anyone would bother to spend four years writing a book. He told me, scornfully, that I should give the book away and make money in some related arena.

I have to admit that now, knowing the bald economics of writing, I’m more sympathetic to Richard’s point of view than I was when we sparred. If the book continues to sell at its current rate, it will take another year just to earn back the money (for editing, copyediting, interior design, cover design, and copywriting) I spent creating it. That’s before I start receiving any compensation for the time I spent writing it! Meanwhile, people are hiring me to design, organize, and facilitate conferences, and I have to sell many books to equal the income from a day of consulting. Richard, maybe you were right.

With the repeated demonstrated failures of attempts to copy-protect information and the rise of ubiquitous online content, I believe we are moving inexorably towards a time when content creation will be supported largely by the subsidy of patrons.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll explore how this shift to a patron economy will impact events.

Image attribution: Flickr user fernando

2 thoughts on “The new patron economy and its impact on events-Part 1

  1. Behind, but catching up… Fascinated that you locked horns with Richard Stallman. Always had a soft spot for him, and an admiration for the F/LOSS community. I have found, and use, some great open source tools, but cannot go “all the way” in a way that would make RS happy. I am still ambivalent about his unwavering stance.
    And then he comes out with: “I don’t have a cell phone. I won’t carry a cell phone,” … “It’s Stalin’s dream. Cell phones are tools of Big Brother. I’m not going to carry a tracking device that records where I go all the time, and I’m not going to carry a surveillance device that can be turned on to eavesdrop.” – http://tinyurl.com/4gzxqwc Am I not paranoid/careful enough? What am I missing by not reading my EULAs carefully?
    A movement needs evangelists, maybe even fundamentalists like RS. Releasing material that is free to use, distribute and modify is great marketing in support of other activities. Is a blog post, by definition copyrighted? Adrian, you give us your wisdom, thoughts and ideas on a regular, if unordered, basis here – that is a contribution to your community. Your book is a carefully ordered, edited, laid out dead-tree/digital presentation of that wisdom, those thoughts and ideas, formatted in a way that we can read, absorb and study. If it is contributing to your business activities (and why wouldn’t it?), great. I was happy to pay to purchase it for its content. I hope to use ideas from it to develop my own career and business. I have bought another copy for a colleague. In RS’s world, should I have been able to copy it and give it to her as long as I credited you as the source?
    Reading your second post in this series, associations are well placed to recruit volunteers as facilitators and contributors and the wealth of knowledge and wisdom within associations is also often underestimated. Tapping that through member volunteers makes a lot of sense. So, unfortunately, does paying for the wisdom and perspective that comes from (sometimes or often? – not always) importing talent from outside the confines of an association or group.
    Sorry, a bit of a ramble…

    1. Steven, I’m susceptible to rambling myself. But you’re making sense to me. I agree with you that, though I’m more sympathetic to some of RS’s viewpoints than I was when we met and argued, he champions an excessive degree of paranoia coupled with an unattractive arrogance. As for his views on copying, I think they add a further disincentive to the rarely remunerative act of creation.

      On your second observation, I agree that making use of outside expertise often makes sense (hey, people pay me to do just that for their events). But smart, healthy associations first discover, cultivate, support, and acknowledge their conference volunteers and plan how to make full use of them before bringing in extra help. And such volunteers are going to become even more valuable as we move towards more participatory sessions at conferences.

      Please ramble away anytime – thanks!

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