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Solving The Pirate’s Dilemma

bittorrent_72_logo.jpg

I’m really excited to announce that tomorrow I officially become a member of the team at BitTorrent, where I have accepted a position as Executive Director of Marketing. I’ll be based in San Francisco at the head office, and while leaving New York City and Syrup was hard, I’m incredibly excited about what’s coming next.

When I met BitTorrent’s CEO Eric Klinker earlier this year, and he told me that “solving The Pirate’s Dilemma was his job,” I knew I had to help. It’s been an amazing couple of years at Syrup, I’ve learned a ton and I’m proud to have built a stellar strategy team there that’s helped double the agency’s billings during that time. But the opportunity at BitTorrent was not something I could pass up.

With more than 100 million users worldwide using their ecosystem of software, devices and content, BitTorrent is focused on pushing advanced content delivery technologies forward in a way that makes sense for content creators and consumers alike. After seeing what’s coming next from BitTorrent, I’m super excited about being a part of the effort to take the most efficient and powerful method of sharing digital information on Earth to new heights. I’ll be posting updates on everything we are doing here, on twitter and everywhere else you can find me on the web.

My speech at Connected Creativity.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

My speech at Incubate 2010

Incubate Pirate Conference #1: Matt Mason Keynote from Incubate Festival on Vimeo.

Caught out for a Twitter spelling mistake on live TV.

Only in Belgium…

Some thoughts on 3-D printing…

Makerbot Cupcake

The Cupcake 3-D printer from MakerBot, which achieved self-replication a few months ago.

Rafael Cabral, a journalist working for the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, interviewed me this week for a piece on 3-D printing. He kindly gave me permission to publish the interview here too:

Do you think that everyone will have a desktop 3D printer? If so when? How distant to “downloading sneakers” are we?

It’s certainly technically possible to have one already. Companies like MakerBot are already shipping them to people worldwide. Whether or not they will become mainstream is primarily a cultural question – there are a lot of cool technologies we could be using that just never really caught on in a huge way, like the Segway for example. But as 3-D printers become more versatile and useful, it makes sense that more people would want to use them. I still think we are at least a decade or so away from a downloadable sneaker that should worry the likes of Nike.

What are the major challenges for the popularization of this technology? Do you think that the industry and brands are interested in the development of domestic 3D printers? Or worried?

Right now 3-D printers don’t really have a killer app. Music was the killer app for the internet – filesharing was the thing that really made the internet seem so cool and powerful and disruptive. Right now the closest thing 3-D printers have is being able to print out your World of Warcraft avatar, which is not as cool as free music. Free downloadable sneakers would do it for sure, but I think it will be something simpler first. Bottle openers maybe, a lot of people with 3-D printer are making those already, and a bottle opener is definitely a social object.

There are some large 3-D printer manufacturers out there who want nothing more than to see this all go mainstream and become the new Apples and Microsofts of the world. When you talk to them, they are really excited about the possibilities and what might happen. I don’t think a lot of people feel threatened by 3-D printers yet, because the threat isn’t there yet. None of the record labels felt threatened by the concept of the internet in the 1980s. Most of them weren’t worried in the 1990s either.

The major implications of the popularization of 3D printers are economic and legal. What do you think that will happen if we create technologies capable of allowing citizens to replace much of the historical industrial-era supply chain? Too dystopic or the old economy can try to make it illegal, like they did with file-sharing?

I think there will be some serious pushback from some powerful communities over 3-D printing, if it catches on. It could upset shipping, all kinds of manufacturing and supply-chain businesses, the entire manufacturing process potentially. That would mean more new economic thinking and business models, the kind of thinking we still haven’t figured out for the digital world. It basically means all of the problems of the internet spilling into the real world. But also all of the possibilities. It won’t be the end of capitalism – It is just as likely to lead to some amazing new businesses and economic ideas as it is to destroy some old systems. It’s an opportunity, not a problem.

In Pirate’s Dilemma, Adrian Bowyer said that “engineering has been making things wrongly since the industrial revolution” – I think he was talking about self-replicating 3D printers. Do you agree with his quote? Is it interesting for the technological industry to sell printers that can create others printers?

He meant that nature has always been more efficient at reproducing than our machines have. The self-replicating machine is indeed a conundrum for “industry” as we’ve come to define it. If such a machine were to become mainstream,we would find ourselves making only two things – raw materials and information, which scares people. But on the other hand, aren’t those the only two things we’ve ever made? And those aren’t the things we sell. We sell people stories about the things we make, which isn’t going to change because of 3-D printers. I think people will always buy something if it comes with a good story, it doesn’t matter where it’s made really. Nike doesn’t own any sneaker factories – and they spend way more money of branding and advertising than they do on making shoes. We already live in a world where the story is the only thing worth anything.

Have you read Chris Anderson’s piece about the new industrial revolution (open source, small factorys, 3D printers)? What do you think about his idea? A new model of production can rise?

I think Chris may, as usual, be on to something. A new model of production based on 3-D printing is already there, it’s just very, very small at the moment. It’s growing for sure, but whether or not it becomes the dominant force in manufacturing depends on many things that have nothing to do with how good the technology is. It’s hard to predict where 3-D printing will end up because there are so many cultural and social factors we can’t predict. We live in a world where politicians make decisions because people give them bags of money or send their wives boxes of cookies. Big decisions about what is acceptable or allowed aren’t always governed by rational thought, or what’s the best way for us to move forward as a society. The one thing that is certain is this technology is improving very quickly. If it continues to do so, we will have some important decisions to make. But if there is one thing we’ve learned so far from the digtial age, it’s that technology that’s really good and really useful always seems to win out, even if it is forbidden.

Crowdsourced Film Lets Fans Share in Profits

Neither the Veil Nor the Four Walls

Neither The Veil, Nor The Four Walls is a new film with a very cool new business model my friend Rene Bastian (Funny Games, Transamerica, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) is producing.

The film is about a young mother from rural Pakistan who goes on an extraordinary and dangerous journey to protect her eight-year-old daughter from an arranged marriage to a powerful warlord. It’s a great story that’s already won a slew of awards, but what’s also amazing is the way the film is being funded.

To raise the money to make it, fans of the project can sponsor frames, seconds or minutes of the film. A single frame can be sponsored for as little as $15, for which you get a digital copy of your frame and a free download of the movie. The more you donate, the more you get in return, from having your name in the end credits to invites to screenings, and even a chance to earn a share in the film’s profits.

It’s a cool idea, exactly the kind of solution independent film-making needs. And it sounds like it’s going to be a great movie. Rene and his team are planning on using the Crowdrazor software they developed for this to power more projects. Find out more here.

Abstract No. 1

Wire Abstract No 1

I just received a copy of ABSTRACT, the micro-magazine of W.I.R.E., a think tank based in Switzerland and London I did an interview for. It’s a really nice magazine, one of the coolest I’ve seen in a while.

This issue is on pirates and there is some fascinating stuff in there, from the metamap showing the evolution of piracy from buccaneers to p2p, to articles on German football pirates. There’s a lot of other cool non-piratey stuff too, including a piece on committing Facebook hari-kiri, something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week in light of recent developments.

Anyway check out W.I.R.E. here, Abstract is a great read, beautifully designed and well worth tracking down.

Talking books and iPads on The Business Insider

Some thoughts on the future of books

I just did a quick email interview for Dirk Koppes, a journalist at the Dutch newspaper De Pers, on the future of ebooks. This isn’t something I’ve been thinking loads about, as it doesn’t make a huge difference to me as an author where people read my books, but it was cool to jam on the topic and thought it was worth publishing the full interview here.

Dirk: Amazon, Apple, Google and others fight for a major market share of ebooks. Thanks to the iPad publishers even can ask more (14.99, iPad) in stead of less (9.99, Amazon) dollars for their new titles. Is this a good development for the industry? And for the readers?

Me: It’s too early to say but it didn’t work for the record business. For me the thing is to give readers as many ways to pay for useful versions of your product at as many price points as you can. If you’re competing with pirates, you need to offer better services than they do. Giving people less makes piracy more attractive.

iPad, as you write on your blog, blocks everything with its DRM. Is this gonna hurt the ebook-industry?

Probably not too much in the short term, and in the long term I think they’ll get rid of the DRM the same way they did with music. This is classic Jobs – start as proprietary as possible and try and control everything, then later figure out it’s not what people want and change accordingly. DRM is a waste of time, it doesn’t help – it’s kind of depressing we have to keep going through this with every new media format. But letting go of control (or the perceived notion of control) isn’t easy for big media companies.

What should booksellers do to avoid the calamity in the music industry?

What happened to the music industry wasn’t a calamity. Behavior changed as technology changed. The business of people making music and coming up with new business models around music is in great health. The calamity was something that happened to the big record labels that didn’t respond to these changes fast enough, because changing your entire business model is hard to to do.

The only thing publishers can do is stay on top of how people are actually using books and respond accordingly (the big news: More people are reading books on cellphones than on eReaders, because the device is already there. It’s like Woody Allen once said “80% of success is showing up.”). They need to keep adding as much value as they can to the process of making a book, rather than trying to create new distribution bottlenecks that in reality are meaningless. People will keep paying authors and paying for books. It’s authors who will decide which publishers stay in business, because they will only work with those who are really helping them get their message to people and adding value to the creative process.

A famous Dutch writer (Leon de Winter) wants to start his own website and sell his own books, so he can keep more income because he skips bookstores and publishers. Good idea?

It’s worked for some authors – it’s a great idea for some to do that, for others there could be reason to go a more traditional route. With music there isn’t one business model per label, there’s several business models per band or artist now. The business of making money from content has become much more complex than it used to be. We’re living through a period of experimentation, where many people will do many things, some will work and others won’t, and those results won’t necessarily repeat themselves if someone else uses exactly the same business model. The trick with complexity is to develop a business model where all the places where people can get your work fro free add value to the places where they pay. I like to think of it as creating virtuous circles (and am currently working on a book about this process).

Another Dutch writer (Ivo Victoria) publishes his books for free, people have to decide how much they want to spend on his books (a bit like Radiohead). Better option? The ebook is published by his traditional paper publisher.

I did this with my book too and it worked really well. It didn’t cannibalize physical sales, it got the book to a lot more people who wouldn’t have found it otherwise, and I get emails every day from people who found the download somewhere and went and bought the real book. The amount of money the free version continues to bring in in terms of speaking and consulting work is substantial, and the number of influential people The Pirate’s Dilemma got to as a result of the free download was crazy. No amount of marketing dollars could have spread the message of the book as well as the free version. For me it was word of mouth marketing on steroids. Does this mean this will work for everyone? No. Like I said, different business model for every author (or even every book). Find the virtuous circle.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t want ebooks of the Harry Potter saga. Now there are tons of pirate versions. Is this going to happen more, and does this teach the book industry it should take better care of its readers?

Like I said – give them what they want or they will get it somewhere else. The publishing industry is in the business of building bridges between readers and authors. To get the work from one to the other in the most efficient way possible and generate profits along the way. Not releasing ebooks is not part of that equation. Rowling is missing out and she should rethink. I understand why this scares people. Change is hard, especially if you’re an author who just spent a few decades making eight figures a year from a business model only to be told one morning it no longer works. I wouldn’t wanna change either!

Is 2010 the breakthrough year for ebooks?

It could be. It’s up to the publishers and authors, and probably Steve Jobs and what they all decide to do about DRM. I’m worried the prices are too high right now – they are making the same mistakes the record business did with that – the focus should be sell more at lower prices, because people know the overheads are lower and know you’re ripping them off.

What excites me is the possibility of more people reading books and authors creating new forms of books – new media forms altogether based on the ebook. My UK publisher Penguin asked to get involved in an experiment with digital storytelling last year called We Tell Stories that offered a glimpse of this.

The real problem for authors and publishers is that people don’t read enough. I’m excited about books becoming more accessible and e-books becoming a new form of media in their own right where the book becomes something new. All this noise about how devastating new tech is will go away once people start to figure out all the new revenue streams that will come into existence as people start behaving in different ways with that tech. That’s how it has always been with new tech from the printing press on down. There’s no need to panic, just focus on doing great work and getting it to people in great ways.

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