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Faulty Supply

The future of media is a tricky thing, at a certain point the technology is going to get cheap enough where physical media will only be useful for archival purposes. It is always good to have an actual physical copy of something somewhere, in case something happens that renders electronics unusable. However one thing that I have found that the advent of cheap-ish internet is that the idea that our idea of how to price things must now change.

If you ask most people why a thing costs as much as it costs, they’ll probably give a simple phrase: supply and demand. This concept is what I consider to be obsolete in most forms of media. Supply and demand says that if a thing is widely wanted than the price will go up and that if there is a huge supply of a thing than the price should go down. What if the supply of a thing was unlimited? How much would you pay for a thing that had a supply that could literally not be exhausted?

If you answered “nothing” I would respond with “bullshit.”

If you have purchased music, movies, or a new book  you have paid for a thing that has an infinite supply. Let’s say I cut an album titled, “Dave rants about various things to the sound of his daughter banging her hand on a table,” and I record it on my computer and then make that file available to the internet. Exactly how many copies of that album exist before the file is unavailable?

You could download a Graham’s number of that album and it would never degrade. There would never be a shortage of copies and people would still be downloading the album (because it would be that awesome). The same with my never-going-to-be-finished-and-currently/still-untitled book, all I have to do is write a hasty ending, dump it on the internet and it is there FOREVER.

This becomes more important when you further realize that these things take up literally no space. I have a Nook, you might have a Nook or a Kindle or a Sony eReader or whatever else is out there now, and I can legally (I stress this point) download the entirety of Aristotle’s work for nothing. This isn’t some shitty ass translation either, the same version that is compiled within the Oxford Collection that costs 96.00 for two volumes is free. I should note that the two books together are about six inches thick, whereas putting them on my Nook doesn’t add anything. Coupled with that is the fact that I have almost sixty other books on my device, most for free, and it adds nothing to mass, matter, or density of the objects in question.

Most of you have probably had an iPod for years now, and think about the difference between that device and what it would take to carry around a cd player and all of the music you have on it. I would need a large duffel bag, but other people I know would need a UHaul.

The concept of the E-Reader raises some interesting questions that nobody seems to have answers to. Exactly how much does a book cost in electronic form? Let’s go back to the example of my unfinished work, tentatively titled “Finished:” odds are that no major publishing house will pick it up. That’s not me being self-deprecating that’s just a fact. For one hundred people typing up the great American Novel on their laptops at Starbucks maybe one will get picked up. Self-publication will probably be the avenue for me and there are plenty of sites that are currently publishing E-books for a variety of prices.

Normally, a publishing house takes care of this end. They charge a usual standard fee which amounts to about 25.00 for a hardcover fiction novel. This covers whatever it is the author agreed to be paid, the various costs the publishing company accrues, their taste of the action, materials, shipping, and then the various cost associated with the place that sells the book. All of this can also be applied to music, movies, and television as well. Almost none of this is based on scarcity, a new fiction book costs the same whether it is anticipated to be popular or not. The same with music; Lady Gaga’s first album cost the same price as her new album is going to be.

Publishers are quickly becoming a useless middleman. Sure, E-Readers are not that popular now, but it is the future. And once that future is now, after we’ve won it, the publishing industry is going to start going the way of the RIAA suing people for copyright infringement. People wondered why the RIAA was so sue happy in the middle of the last decade but it’s because they could see they were losing their grip. They saw the future and no one fights so hard as one who thinks they are going to lose what their status (see: Tea Party Healthcare protests, Union protests, or just download and read Machiavelli’s Discourses from Project Guttenberg). The recording industry could see that as recording technology is getting cheaper, people could theoritically record their own music and sell it directly. It’s ludicrously easier for writers. Before the publishing houses were needed to get the books out, or else the author was going to have to self-publish and be doomed to basically a local following depending on how much money they had to pour into it. That’s all gone now.

Even worse for the recording industry is the idea that people don’t need to buy old music. Let’s take the Beatles, since they are probably the most popular band ever. They’ve already been paid for their music, the recordings are already paid for, and everything has been digitized. Right now all of their music collection, 47 official separate releases, 310 songs, can fit in the memory of most people’s cell phones. Why does that cost anything? Everyone has already gotten paid.

What the Nook and products like it expose is that there is an illusion that goes into price. We are so used to paying for something and assuming that the cost is made up of partial production and partial profit that we are losing sight of the fact that purely electronic media doesn’t actually exist. The study of Ontology defines an object as something that exists in a spatial and temporal sense, computer files don’t meet this requirement and thus are infinite.

People always talk about the invisible hand of capitalism, but now, the hand doesn’t apply. It can’t drive the market because that market stretches to both ends of the universe.

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