ponderings on other economies

On the same day he spoke with Chris Anderson about the implications of Long Tail for alternative means of producing IP, Lessig blogged ‘on the economies of culture‘. The fine folks over at Tech Liberation Front have posted recently on how markets don’t need money, and more recently on the gift economy.

I’d love to have coherent thoughts on this, but I don’t right at the moment. Some jotted down bits that might get refocused later:

  • The hybrid economy will happen on a sliding scale. Some participants (Lessig, for example, or the Grateful Dead and Phish) will be able to make money very reliably on the second-order effects (tenure for Lessig, live shows for Dead/Phish). They will, in general, opt for very liberal licensing of their first-order IP creations- books for Lessig, recorded music for the Dead/Phish. On the other end of the spectrum will be those who can’t for some reason reliably make money from second-order effects- musicians who hate performing live (or who suck at it) would be likely the most common example of this. They’ll obviously want to license as restrictively as possible. The middle ground will be occupied by, for example, RHEL, who will strictly license their trademark, but not their code, since they can reliably generate revenue as long as no one confuses the non-supported code with the officially supported version.
  • There will be a big business in helping people make the transition from enthusiastic volunteer to paid creator, or in surfing that boundary. We’ve already seen in free software that lots of people want to create for free; but that most of those people, given a choice, will happily take money to create full-time. So there will be services around channeling money to volunteers. Bounty programs; advertising placed on volunteer-owned websites (i.e., blogs); or professional placement specialists who help people find jobs that meet their demonstrated need- we’ll likely see more of all of these.
  • Editors/tastefinders will become even more important. Red Hat is already such an editor; editing and confirming quality is what people pay for RHEL for. Easy enough to imagine radio stations of CC-licensed music with paid advertising, or websites selling ads on cc-licensed pictures.
  • At Tech Liberation Front, I noted that as great as whuffie is, it doesn’t pay the bills. We’re not actually post-scarcity yet. I think this is a huge problem for volunteer communities. It means that whenever you feel like the rent, or retirement, or whatever $CASH_REQUIREMENT is hanging over your head, activities which don’t generate cash right now go right out the window. I think we’ll all be better off when whuffie-generating activities can also pay the bills directly– they’ll be more stable, more predictable, more useful. (And people will still be able to opt-out if they just want to have good, clean fun.)
  • Lessig’s meanderings are interesting, as always, but I am confused by his assumption that GPL (which defacto makes everything Free) is somehow incompatible with a hybrid economy, when the very first examples of hybrid economies that he cites- Mozilla and RH- both make their money while owning virtually none of their core IP. I respect that he is trying to push for flexibility in licensing while people experiment with hybrid business models, but it seems like in this post he unecessarily and incorrectly slammed those who disagree with him.