David Pogue of the New York Times has been mentioned in this weblog before under a similar subject, the The Generational Divide in Copyright Morality. Here Mr. Pogue asks Can e-Publishing Overcome Copyright Concerns? - New York Times on May 22, 2008. This time he seems to have been attempting to offer some business advice to artistic entrepreneurs. The question of copyrights has been linked with the question of fair use in a number of posts. It is a double-edged question. One wants to protect the concept of fair use, but the individual artist finds himself at risk. Mr. Pogue asks the unresolved question.
"What is the writer or musician to do, though, if she can't earn money from her art? Simple, says the Slashdotter: earn your money playing live (if you're one of those musicians who plays live), or selling T-shirts or merchandise, or providing some other kind of 'value-added' service. Many such arguments seem to me to be simple greed disguised in high-falutin' idealism about how 'information wants to be free.'
This weblog has passed on advice from both the artistic perspective and the business perspective. A week after his article (May 29, 2008) Mr. Pogue received advice from his readers, though he was reluctant to take it. From the Desk of David Pogue - Readers Have Their Say in the E-Publishing Debate - NYTimes.com
Last week in this space, I agonized over the issue of releasing the books in my Missing Manual series in electronic form.
A number of passionate writers were confident that releasing free copies of my books would lead to more sales of the printed ones, not less. These people could not understand why I don't see that:
Mr. Pogue has every right to provide his product or services to the public as he sees fit and if he doesn't want to make them available free online, so be it. Not everybody is comfortable with all aspects of e-commerce. How useful his advice is though to struggling artists in another question. I am not certain that he even addresses the question. I am summarizing the question here, partially because of copyright concerns. The questioner is not asking Mr. Pogue to provide the materials for free. He is asking him to consider alternative avenues of sales/revenue and challenges him to do a test.
"All you have proven is that there is pent-up demand for an electronic version of your book. Your conclusion is only valid IF you had a legitimate electronic version to sell, and people chose to get the free one instead of the paid one.
Even if your book was on a pirated site, people (like me) would buy a legitimate non-DRM'd electronic version if you sold it. Until you do, you cannot make any claims about digital piracy from personal experience, because you haven't done a valid test."
Mr. Pogue's response: This is the crux of the matter, really: *nobody* can do a valid test. Some authors (like Cory Doctorow) point to anecdotal evidence that free e-versions boost the sales of printed books; other authors (like Stephen King and Steven Poole, whose blog I quoted last week) declared their e-book experiments failures. But a truly valid test will never be conducted because it would require parallel universes:
Mr. Pogue's response would be valid entrepreneurial advice if the questioner was applying for a job at CERN, but artisans in a new economy won't be able to wait for such a perfect universe(s?). I suspect that Mr. Pogue's position is based more on his view of the "morality" of the issue. Morality is in quotes not to question Mr. Pogue's ethics, but in recognition that it is not as straight forward an issue as some may claim. Does the artist need to give away his creativity because Slashdot thinks 'information wants to be free'? - No, but if the artist finds that selling t-shirts and using the music for marketing is a better business model than selling music and using the t-shirts for marketing, they better give it some thought. The old paradigms are gone.