How Do Artists Get Paid?

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First, let’s get one thing straight. Most artists are already starving. So talking about illegal file sharing as if it is going to spawn hoards of starving artists is just plain dumb. Yes, it possibly– that’s possibly— puts into jeopardy the paycheck of a minority of artists who currently get paid (most not too well) by large media conglomerates. I am an author of both fiction and non-fiction. So for me, this is not just an abstract concept.

Second, we have got to stop trying to solve new problems with old tools. I am not going to run my company’s finances using an abacus, nor navigate a boat with a sextant. For centuries what has protected content is the pain-in-the-ass factor. Why don’t I scan in and OCR The DaVinci Code and distribute it? Because it’s a pain in the ass.

All lock-and-key technologies rely on this same pain-in-the-ass concept. Why don’t you undo the lock? Finding the key is a pain in the ass.  DRM is just an electronic lock and key. But here’s the catch in 2007. Hacking into a DRM system to find the key still is a pain in the ass, but once you do find it, distributing it around the internet is cake. For everyone but you, the pain-in-the-ass factor is gone.  And, as Steve Jobs noted in his recent call to abolish DRM, this results in an expensive game of one-upsmanship.

So if we abolish DRM– which I support– how will artists get paid? I see two viable possibilities. First, advertising. When I say this, book people (publishers & agents) look at me as if I am Lord Voldemort. Book people can be so prissy. What on earth is wrong with an ad on the inside pages of a book? Imagine the CPM on The Da Vinci Code! And books aren’t perishable like newspapers or TV shows. Similarly, embed short radio-style ads every X number of songs on an iPod. Let iTunes work on how to enable that instead of the constant DRM battle. But what if I don’t want ads. We have a solution for that.

It’s called the paid cable model. Take You Tube, which is now sharing revenue with its user base. I’m talking about the same idea. If you pay a subscription to your cable company, you can access all kinds of content for free. The cable company shares a portion of the revenue with the site publishers.

We have to admit that DRM just doesn’t work and go on to other things that might.