business, technology

Paywalls and Crowdsourcing

I saw this in the NYTimes recently:

The Lede is tracking reports of the damage and the tsunami warnings. Are you in an affected area? What are you seeing? Send your photos to pix@nyt.com

What’s interesting to me is that they are basically asking people to work for the NYTimes for free. This isn’t a new idea, it actually already has a name, it’s called crowdsourcing.

What makes it interesting is this:

Taking a step that has tempted and terrified much of the newspaper industry, The New York Times announced… that it would charge some frequent readers for access to its Web site

I seems that the crowdsourcing was popularized on a paradigm of openness and freeness (ex. wikipedia). It’ll be interesting to watch how (if) the goodwill of the “crowd” changes when The New York Times’ paywall comes up.

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apple, business, iphone, ipod touch, mac, music, technology

Thoughts on "Stopping Piracy"

There is no way to stop people from stealing. Humans have been stealing since well before computers came around, and they’ll never stop (at least not in our lifetimes). It’s better to let go of the idea of stopping it and figure out ways to work around it.

Theft is an unstoppable force. If you see a car speeding towards you and you want to live, you don’t think of how to stop the car, you just get the hell out of the way.

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business, mac

Apple's World-Wide Pricing

Will Green has created a listing of word-wide prices for a few Apple products and a comparison on their cost to US Customers. I was wondering about this myself recently. So it was nice to see. Of course, the reason for these differences is that Apple is an America company and the prices for the rest of the world try to account for what they would like to get for their products in US dollars and the fluxuation in the exchange rate. I’m interested in how well they account for it. I’d assume that the American price is what they’d like to get on average so a history of how close they’ve come would show how effective their economists are at guessing prices for the products. To see that you’d probably need a full year at minimum of the highs and lows of the dollar versus each currency plus the average. Even then that might not be enough, I don’t know enough about the stores in the rest of the world, do they prices change yearly even? Or is it every few years or is it more sporadic? That could make a difference.

For instance looking at a Mac Pro on the site:
$2499 USD
¥304,571
$2,529.75 USD – Cost based on 6 month average exchange rate for yen in Japan

But it gets interesting to me when more statistics get added in. From what I can tell using Google Finance:
$2,688.14 USD – Current price for Japan (based on the exchange rate at the end of the day 2007.Sep.11)
$2,456 USD – Year’s low price for Japan (approx.)
$2,695 USD – Year’s high price for Japan (approx.)

I’d really like to see a whole history and analysis of their world wide pricing.

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boneheads, business, mac, technology

NBC Wants People to Stop Buying TV Shows

On the heels of iTunes getting rid of DRM in music NBC says they want more. NBC would also like to re-negotiate pricing and bundle shows. So far NBC has declined to renew its contract with Apple.

First issue: pricing. The pricing is fine. No one else really thinks it is too much or too little. Done.

Second issue: bundling. Users don’t want to be forced to buy a bundle and won’t like a change that removes a freedom of choice that they once had.

Third issue: DRM. Okay, more and more people are starting to agree that DRM is bad for consumers. Just look at Microsoft’s PlayForSure (which even the Zune doesn’t support) and Sony’s ATRAC (which has been dumped, leaving owners of those music file holding the bag). DRM limits how legitimate owners can use their purchased content and creates a situation in which it is likely that users will be locked out of different devices or just plain lock out of ever using the content again. The good thing is that many people just won’t purchase DRM burdened files. A user on one forum wrote a response to NBC’s demands:

Either I can buy a season of Scrubs and the Office when it starts again or I can find it in some other manner that will not benefit NBC at all.

Your call, NBC.

This exemplifies the main issue with DRM, that is that it agitates the problem it seeks to solve. By demanding an increased cost and adding DRM NBC simply pushes customers towards peer2peer sites and of course that will be far worse than unbundled slightly DRM’ed $1.99 TV episodes.

update: NBC and Apple are splitting ways. Apple has announced that they will not carry NBC shows because NBC wanted each episode to sell for $4.99 which is more than double what they cost now. We’ll see how NBC likes it when their own service fails and people turn to the peer2peer networks. It will be especially interesting to see how this effects the popularity of its shows, considering it was iTunes that saved the award winning show The Office from certain death.

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business, politics

A Demonstration of How Copyright is Being Used in America

Some prisoners tried to get themselves out of jail by abusing copyright. They ended up in trouble of course, but one of the things they got in trouble for was extortion. It is hard to imagine how that might stick considering the prisoners are using the same system that “patent holders” are using on a regular basis.

The question then is why aren’t patent hoarding companies held to the same standard? Techdirt put it nicely when they said that

people are beginning to realize that it can be used as a hammer for all kinds of ridiculous lawsuits that have absolutely nothing to do with creating incentives for the creation of new content

I’d put it a bit more sharply. Greedy people without any ideas are abusing a poorly designed system meant to protect people with ideas from greedy people without ideas.

These greedy folks will make it harder for businesses to start and flourish, but they will also limit a lot of things for consumers. It means that products and services will cost more and that innovative products and services will be stifled. Lawyers have convinced doctors to patent medical procedures, convinced accountants to patent tax-strategies, and of course didn’t even need to convince large incumbent companies from using patents to stamp down rival startups.

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business, politics, technology

Where is Capitalism Anyway

There’s a hard case for saying capitalism still exists in America. Calling our market a free one is like saying a cage-free chicken is honestly free. The irony is that it is the market leaders (often ones who clamor for deregulation) are the ones that are steering America’s market towards a feudal system.

The linchpin in this drive is patents & copyrights and to a lesser degree trademarks. Patents & Copyright aren’t necessarily bad, but they are being heavily abused in the US. It only takes one look at Marshal, Texas to understand where we are heading.

While small businesses and start-ups are hurt, the folks sitting at the end of the punch are the America people. The state of intellectual property laws are such that we’ve stifled innovation in America and reduced competition. The concept of the free market is that those who can’t survive in business are pushed out of the market, however through intellectual property management any company that has established itself can remain on artificial life-support by abusing the system through lawsuits that either give failing businesses a cut of their competition’s income or by blocking that competition altogether.

The result is that old weak companies wheeze along while newer innovative companies are left emaciated or quietly strangled out of existence through a feudal market. A feudal market is one in which companies survive only through virtue of their heritage (intellectual property). If a new innovative company enters the market it must pay the old company to work on the land (license fees) or it can not work at all.

Companies have learned this and have begun hoarding patents. These patents abused to the detriment of America. The long-term result of a feudal business model is that innovative products will cost more and come from other countries. While the old companies flail in their slow death they are taking the economy with them. And while their death is slow it will not be nearly as painful for them as it will be for middle and low class Americans.

The life-span of companies has been artificially prolonged leaving us with undead monsters who scour the market for the brains of the living. There is always a balance, the dead trees fall down and decompose, feeding the young trees as the stretch upward, the question is where those trees will be. Will innovation be able to survive in America or will it find more fertile soil elsewhere? And consider this, sometimes the old dead trees don’t fall down and decompose, sometimes they pile up— the only thing for that is a fire, but fire destroys everything and it takes years for a new forest to grow in its place. Do we really want to wait for the fire?

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