I have never met Robert Levine, but if I do, buying him a drink will not be enough. If I could, I would buy Robert Levine a car. Yes… That seems appropriate for the mastery of work he has created in his book, Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business.
Recently I sat on a panel for MEIEA, (Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association Summit) on their “New Entrepreneurs” panel. With me was Kyle Bylin, a free-tard who used to write for both Hypebot and Billboard.
I call him a free-tard, not because he’s dumb (quite the contrary) Or because I have anything against him (I do not) but because like so many of the net-generation–raised where you could achieve notoriety without actually producing anything tangible–he seemed to still believe in ideals like the Long Tail theory of economics.
You remember that one, don’t you? You give music away for free (or charge next to nothing) and somehow make up the difference on the volume, touring and merchandise. It’s the Long Tail logic that inspired Radiohead’s famous “pay what you want” release In Rainbows: an experiment that neither they, nor anyone else in the know, has repeated. (Results here.)
I know that few under 25 will readily agree with Levine’s Free Ride, but my guess is that this is mostly out of some kind of generational loyalty. You can’t get laid today unless you disagree with old farts who still believe in selling physical goods and creating passive revenue streams. Instead, to get ‘em hot nowadays, you talk of giving away everything while your investors wait patiently. This is what makes you look like a hero. This is today’s rock star. Instead of free love, we now have free everything.
When I mentioned Free Ride on the MEIEA panel, Kyle rolled his eyes, “I wish I had time to debunk line by line everything in that book.” I responded, “Then why don’t you?” I’d certainly like to hear some intelligent counter arguments and if anyone could offer them inteligently it would be Kyle. But, he supplied none at the time. (Maybe reading this will motivate him.)
If you have not read Free Ride and you are a songwriter, recording artist, journalist or TV person, then you are living in ignorance. The freemium model postulated by Google and ISPs is wreaking havoc on our economy and Levine tells you how with arguments (although some would say sophistry) as solid as granite.
In several lucid chapters Levine explains and elaborates the issues I introduced in my 2005 piece, The DRM Manifesto, with far more astonishing detail than i ever could. More of this sentiment was recently touched upon in a Dave Lowery piece about the new boss being worse than the old boss.
But one day “generation free” will be over forty and they, like so many hippies when they reached middle-age, will realize that a fair amount of the anti-establishment rhetoric they supported was the product of generational group-think, not sound economic theory.
Parting joke courtesy of Moses Supposes reader Matt Skills, “A million people walk into a bar in Silicon Valley. No one buys anything. It was a great sucess.”