rowan-gibson Rowan Gibson writes an interesting piece on Blogging Innovation about what he terms “the Internet commodity trap”—the rampant free distribution of content, authorized and otherwise, that is causing a great deal of disturbance in business.

Gibson first brings up the problem of e-book copying.

I remember talking to Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, back in 1995 about the future of the Web. He told me he viewed the Internet as a "planetary-sized copying machine" and added that "trying to stop copying on the Net is impossible."

As an example, he cites the way it only took a week from the publication of one of his books in Chinese translation to that book showing up on illicit Chinese download sites. He covers some of the ways the publishing industry is trying to deal with this copying.

“One option is to sell eBooks direct to customers, cutting out middlemen like distributors and retailers, and building a community around the books and authors.” Though Gibson does not mention Baen here, this is essentially what Baen is doing—and doing well. Another option is adding social-networking or multimedia “extras”.

Next he covers the music and newspaper industries, the former being disrupted by low-paying streaming services as well as illicit downloads, and the latter facing a loss in ad revenues as more readers move on-line. He looks at some of the ways these businesses are trying to adapt, including paywalls and micropayments.

Gibson concludes that the content industry’s only hope of survival is for businesses to figure out how to innovate and reinvent themselves in a form that can profit in this new environment. It is good to see someone recognizing that. So far, it seems as if most content providers think their only hope is in clinging to the old models for as long as possible, and getting laws passed to let them do so.


  1. “trying to stop copying on the Net is impossible.”

    They should have listened. This was true in 1995, and it is still true today (its build into the internet itself).

    Sadly, big content just refuse to believe this.

    Well… let me prove it then.


    Thats a hidden service in Tor. You have nowhere to send a takedown notice, and no way to see how downloads what, and should you get lucky and find the server it is easily moved, and you are back to square uno.

    If big content does not understand this, they will have to learn it by heart.

  2. I fail to understand the sense of triumph exhibited here, since the inevitable result of a world of stolen content is… no one will bother to produce quality content. Is that really what people want?

    At any rate, Gibson’s observation about the cable TV industry is a prime example of the fact that what may be true now… the widespread and uncontrolled availability of free content… may not be so in the future. Despite what people like to think, the internet… a web of servers, operating on nationally-owned telecommunications channels… can be controlled, if it is determined that it is in the best interest (IOW, profitable enough) of the controlling parties. Saying it’s impossible is just like saying “No one will pay for TV.”

  3. I’m of the same mind as Steve Jordan. We will soon find the ‘frontier’ days of the internet have passed us by. Governments will work with content cartels and internet providers to restrict this ‘copying’ function in extreme ways. Logs will be kept on every site we visit. Privacy routers like Tor will no longer work. Only sneakernets will work, based on flash drives, thumb drives, SD cards and the like; these will be passed only to those you trust, a la the Samizdat of Soviet Russia.

    The trading of information and content can never be completely, 100%, controlled. But they don’t have to control it 100%. They just have to choke off 95% or so.

    This will be of great financial reward to the publishers, record labels, movie studios, and their kind. I suspect that many authors will also, at first, celebrate it. I also suspect that authors will not celebrate it in the end. No author wins when the publishers hold all the cards.

    — asotir

  4. >the inevitable result of a world of stolen content is no one will bother to produce quality content.

    I have to call BS on that one. It may be that the money whores will go do something else. But do you really think guys like Cory Doctorow will suddenly stop writing. What about Charles Stross. Do you really think that Baen will stop producing books?

    >the internet [snip] can be controlled


    >Governments will work with content cartels and internet providers to restrict this ‘copying’ function in extreme ways.

    How? (You cant do that without breaking the internet)

    >Privacy routers like Tor will no longer work

    You want to ban Tor 🙂
    Why not zip and mp3 and divx, hell ban ePub while you are at it. (Will not make any difference).

    The only way you can make this work, is by “shutting down” the internet (as in. turning it into something else). Do you really think they would have argued about this for so long if the solution was obvious?

    If you do not understand WHY this is not possible, you may just have misunderstood the internet.

    Sorry if I came across with a “sense of triumph”, that was not my intent.

  5. @asotir
    You write off the sneakernet as if it’s nothing. I can buy a 16GB USB drive today for less then $40 that can hold 16,000 e-books.

    Law enforcement can not control DVD sales in flea markets. Controlling copying is not possible unless we shutdown the internet and have incorruptible robots following each individual in the world. Then you might reduce it by 95%

    People have to stop counting the people that aren’t buying. Everyone consumes content without paying during periods of their life. There is enough of a market of paying customers to keep people making content.

    We have to learn from the buskers. (I don’t mean writing for dimes at the street corner). Not everyone is going to throw money in the guitar case but enough will to make it worth your time. If a busker stands there yelling at all the people that aren’t throwing money in the case they aren’t going to make any money.

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