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Seth Goodin: The law of the internet

We all see the writing on the wall. Sometimes it takes someone like Seth Godin to translate it clearly:

The law of the internet is simple: either you do something I can’t do myself (or get from someone else), or I pay you less than you’d like.

Read his full blog post.

via: ¡Journalista!

Community Comments

#1 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
November/30/2010
@ 12:36 pm

Well yes…if one has a niche market ( or better yet, invents it ) then, yeah the rewards should be greater.
Some inherent problems, though, are a public dumbed down into accepting the mediocre or glitzed up steotyped…and the fact that payment is already at slave rates.

Since the author presents music as an example, let’s stay there. In the first case, we have a stupified public elevating lo-talent screamers from the insipid “American Idol” into stars, while keeping genuine artists off the stage or underpaid.
Advances in technology also effectively lowered the price. Karaoke transformed venues from decent paying live joints to awfulness run by a button pushing monkey.

The internet does make for greater opporunities, but it also makes for homogenization and much less distinctiveness.

#2 Ted Rall
November/30/2010
@ 4:36 pm

Using music as an example, Seth is simply wrong. While the democratizing effect of the Internet is undeniable, it is hardly as pervasive as he says.

A major record label has far more than “nothing” to offer a band. It can get the band’s CDs into stores (physical music still accounts for 60% of music industry profits); it is unlikely that the band’s self-pressed CDs will wind up in a mall store in Columbus. A major label can put up money for promotion, arrange (and pay for) big-name producers. It can set up a tour through major venues.

The true effect of the Internet is that it offers false hope to millions of people who will never make it (and don’t deserve to). They will fail, yet the $20 they each earn will bleed the talented bands who do deserve to make it. Talent is being bled to death as if nibbled by ducks.

It is also true that a tiny number of truly deserving newbies who might never have made it under the Old Order will break through. But there are far fewer of these than the hundreds of great bands who will be destroyed.

Of course, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s just how it is.

#3 Robert George
November/30/2010
@ 10:18 pm

I guess, Ted, the question is what band has been destroyed? There have been very large and some mid sized acts that surely have made less than they would have, but who have the ducks killed? Which band said “Screw it, the still considerable money, fans, groupies, and courtesy heroin isn’t worth it any more.”
I just don’t see it. The web does democratize Ted. But it also hurts the people inside the cartel that is being democratized. Cartels ARE great for music creators who work within their system. Their collapse, though, won’t destroy music or musicians, which predate them. Delvery technology from the last century created what we think of as the music industry, and now it is changing thanks to a new delivery technology.

#4 Robert George
November/30/2010
@ 10:21 pm

I guess, the broader point is, why is the old way, which was once the new way, the best way for people as a whole? I recognize, as a creator attached to a syndicate, you are immediately sympathetic to the people inside the system being assaulted, but why, objectively, is that system best for music in general? Furthermore, why, in general, do you think the entire mass media complex that was created in the middle of the last century is better than the new, decentralized model we have today?

#5 Ted Rall
December/1/2010
@ 6:29 am

The old way isn’t best. It sucks in many ways. Just because I succeeded under the old system doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its many flaws.

But the old way is better than the new way.

As Seinfeld responded to someone who pointed out that there are now, thanks to YouTube, a million new comedians: “Yes, but there’s still the same number of good ones.”

Let’s say the old way provided spots for 500 cartoonists to make a real living, from $30,000 to $100,000 to (Charles Schulz) $40 million. Back then, there might have been 25 cartoonists who got shut out but should not have been.

Now there are 100,000 new cartoonists, plus the old 500 cartoonists.

Those 100,000 cartoonists can only earn $500 a year. So they will give up and go away. But not before reducing the incomes of the 500 old ones. Now they earn $10,000 to $40,000 to $750,000. Those at the bottom–though talented– give up and quit.

Are those 25 new cartoonists, each now earning $10,000 and mostly bound to quit, worth the loss of the old ones? Maybe.

A bigger question is: when the possible payoff of a profession diminishes, fewer people will go into it. Look at music: when young dudes dreamed of earning millions, everyone formed a band. That meant more bands. With greater odds of some of them being great. Now the potential payday of forming a band is less, and there aren’t as many great bands.

I’ve seen this in cartooning. From Chris Kelly (who? Exactly) to Gurevich, talented people are leaving for brighter pastures, like TV animation.

#6 Stephanie McMillan
December/1/2010
@ 6:52 am

“The law of the internet is simple: either you do something I can?t do myself (or get from someone else), or I pay you less than you?d like.”

What often ends up happening instead is “do something better AND get paid less.” Even for the same amount of actual paid work, the pay is much worse than a few years ago.

#7 Robert George
December/1/2010
@ 10:40 am

Ted:
“The old way isn?t best. It sucks in many ways. Just because I succeeded under the old system doesn?t mean I can?t appreciate its many flaws.

But the old way is better than the new way.

As Seinfeld responded to someone who pointed out that there are now, thanks to YouTube, a million new comedians: ?Yes, but there?s still the same number of good ones.? And that’s true, to a point. But I think it also true now that a person is more likely to find a TV show, or cartoonist, or musician, that speaks to them directly and personally, while in the past good meant speaking to a truly mass audience. Even if the performers speak to less people, its not clear the entertained get an inferior experience.

“A bigger question is: when the possible payoff of a profession diminishes, fewer people will go into it. Look at music: when young dudes dreamed of earning millions, everyone formed a band. That meant more bands. With greater odds of some of them being great. Now the potential payday of forming a band is less, and there aren?t as many great bands.”

Is it? or is it just because now we can’t agree what constitutes a great band now? How many people actually think of the Beatles, or the Stones, or an old great band from back in the day as their absolute favorite band? Not that many. They are bands everyone LIKES. We love somebody else. But they are great because their isn’t many people who hate them. Now people are passionate about smaller acts that only their sub-group of society loves, and everyone else hates. That’s, imo, is why their are fewer great bands now. Because there is no way to be Elvis, but their is a way to be OK Go, so fewer people try to be Elvis.

“I?ve seen this in cartooning. From Chris Kelly (who? Exactly) to Gurevich, talented people are leaving for brighter pastures, like TV animation.”
I will concede this point: The TV animation my kids watch is light years beyond what I used to watch.

#8 Pete Murphey
December/1/2010
@ 11:59 am

Speaking of music, a related story, “The Age of Music Piracy is Officially Over” : http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/st_essay_nofreebird/

#9 JP Trostle
December/1/2010
@ 1:35 pm

Well I guess we’re back to another episode of “What does Ted qualify as ‘good’?”

I currently live in North Carolina, where the local scene is threatening to go critical (again) with bands you’ve already heard of, or will soon enough. Right now I’m swimming in good bands ? in fact, I feel I’m drowning in good music, or at least music I’m excited to share with friends. And most of those bands are either on small or no label (unless you consider alt powerhouses like Yep Roc and Merge “major”), and the people in the bands are making a living at this ? and it is mostly due to the internet.

Are there terrible bands and $h1tty music inundating pop culture today? Hell yes ? but there has ALWAYS been crappy music. Good Lord, go back and listen to some of those old American Top 40 broadcasts (you can find ones from the 70s and early 80s online now) to hear how appalling bad popular music was. That didn’t stop Punk.

Sorry, Ted, this time I’m not buying it. Plus, music isn’t cartooning. Whether you’re comparing old models or new, what makes success in one field doesn’t really translate to the other. One album, heck one song will put you on the map in music. One smash hit cartoon means you just have to come back the next day and do it again and again and again ? and then you still get layed off.

#10 Terry LaBan
December/1/2010
@ 1:57 pm

Ted makes some good points, but still–how does the proliferation of bands or cartoonists one can access on the internet diminish the profits of ALL bands or cartoonists? After all, the cartoonists still working in the old system are still getting paid the old way–the ones on the internet are getting their money from a completely different place (unless they’re parlaying their online popularity into print gigs). The “attack of the ducks” analogy just doesn’t make any sense. Ted, are you arguing that art is a zero-sum game?

#11 Jesse Cline
December/1/2010
@ 2:18 pm

Ted: “when young dudes dreamed of earning millions, everyone formed a band. That meant more bands. With greater odds of some of them being great.”

The other day: “After the revolution, there won?t be different income levels”

I guess we can look forward to Soviet style rock after Ted takes over.

#12 August J. Pollak
December/1/2010
@ 3:22 pm

Ted, Chris Kelly’s doing so badly he’s writing the intros to MY books. :)

#13 Alan Gardner
December/1/2010
@ 3:46 pm

For the record – I didn’t intend to start another business model debate.

We can argue which one is better, but the point of Godin’s blog post (and why I posted it here) is that no matter how great the old model (syndication, music labels, hollywood movies) is/was… it’s becoming less relevant.

The future we’re seing now is a destruction monopolistic business models. Will hollywood still exist? Yes. Will music labels exist? Yes. Will syndicates still exist? Yes. Will they be required for those pursing movies, music or cartooning? No.

#14 Ted Rall
December/1/2010
@ 11:43 pm

“Ted, are you arguing that art is a zero-sum game?”

Cartooning isn’t zero-sum. For sure, some new cartoonists attract new fans who never likes cartooning to begin with. They’re not nibbling away at anyone’s existing income.

But not many.

Most new cartoonists are drawing fans away from existing features. Whether you think that’s good, bad or neutral, we should accept that.

“The future we?re seing now is a destruction monopolistic business models. Will hollywood still exist? Yes. Will music labels exist? Yes. Will syndicates still exist? Yes. Will they be required for those pursing movies, music or cartooning? No.”

Agreed. However, it is interesting to discuss the ramifications of the digital revolution.

#15 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
December/2/2010
@ 1:31 am

Man…do I agree with Ted.
Cartooning is SO beyond zero-sum. Look at how “cartooning” advanced civilization into classic art, then Impressionist, then Abstract, then Surrealistic.
Cartooning ALWAYS led the way: Daumier, Bruegels, Delacroix, Gauguin, Picasso, Dali…
the GENIUSES were always cartoonists FIRST.

Imagine a world without a Robert Minor, or a Boardman Robinson, or Herbert Block, or a Bill Mauldin, or a David Low….or a Walt Kelly !

Without these unabashed LIBERALS, cartoonists today would be drawing stick figures in the sand, and trying to explain it to the STUPID conservatives that try to kill ANY advancement in civilization …ALL the EFFFING TIME!

Conservatives are ENEMIES of Civilization and modernity.

#16 Pete Murphey
December/2/2010
@ 7:14 am

Ted: ?when young dudes dreamed of earning millions, everyone formed a band. That meant more bands. With greater odds of some of them being great.?

Ted unknowingly identifies why capitalism, and the potential of earning MORE than the next guy, inspires expansion, creativity and excellence. Good catch, Jessie.

Maybe some day Ted will actually answer the question of why the creation of equal incomes by the government, eh-hem, excuse me, the proletariat, is a GOOD thing and how he proposes that will happen without the use of authoritarian force. So far we?ve heard nothing but communist crickets chirping.

#17 Jerry Zee
December/2/2010
@ 8:24 am

To me, the internet is pretty much a black hole on the economy and humanity. Look at all the stores on Main Street. They keep closing and they’re never coming back. Pretty soon Main Street is going to look like a mouth with a couple teeth in it. The internet offers billions of free choices for entertainment and information. I think the old model is being eroded by the millions of free choices on the internet, not so much by any new economy…Money on the internet is an illusion and so are our “online friends”, as opposed to real live ones.

#18 Jason Nocera
December/2/2010
@ 11:37 am

Ted – I’ll have to disagree with your statement at # 14. In my opinion: These new cartoonists are not nibbling away at other features. The few hundred bucks they get are from people who don’t normally read comics or would not normally buy comics. They’re friends and family who they’ve begged/guilted into buying something.

In these discussions, there is always the problem of the definition of a cartoonist. A cartoonist is not just an artist who draws one feature. A cartoonist can work on many different types of projects. So, yes, for a person who wants to just do ONE feature – they will probably struggle to get some income, however, if they are open to the vast opportunities out there for cartoonists on the Internet, they have the potential to do well.

#19 Mike Lester
December/2/2010
@ 12:34 pm

Mr. Rank: “Without these unabashed LIBERALS, cartoonists today would be drawing stick figures in the sand, and trying to explain it to the STUPID conservatives that try to kill ANY advancement in civilization ?ALL the EFFFING TIME!”

Behold: the master cartoonist race argument.

http://instantrimshot.com/

#20 Phil Maish
December/3/2010
@ 12:37 pm

“Cartooning isn?t zero-sum. For sure, some new cartoonists attract new fans who never likes cartooning to begin with. They?re not nibbling away at anyone?s existing income.

But not many.

Most new cartoonists are drawing fans away from existing features. Whether you think that?s good, bad or neutral, we should accept that.”

Really? Do you really think cartoonists have hunted down the entire potential readership of comics on the web and are now just fighting over the same carcass– survival of the fittest; Nature, red in tooth and claw?

I’ve heard it said that print’s greatest advantage (apart from paying actual cash money) was the ability to attract casual readers, as in folks browsing past the comics page in the newspaper and being drawn in by a compelling strip or somesuch. Can’t there be some web equivalent?

#21 Beth Cravens
December/3/2010
@ 1:33 pm

Seth’s right. It’s not enough to be good. You better be awesome. Be unique, your own brand. And be social, show some personality. If you start a conversation and talk back you’ll come closer to actually selling those books you self published.

Speaking of self publish, what does anyone know about ComixPress? I ordered a book from them in April and finally got it in November. Is that a fluke, or is that normal?

#22 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
December/3/2010
@ 2:02 pm

Mr. Lester: “Behold: the master cartoonist race argument.”

Hmmm….Perhaps you meant “The cartoonist master race argument” ?

Ba-dump-bump.

You might be on to something though….Interesting to speculate about a society run by cartoonists. I imagine it would be similar to the Marx Brothers “Freedonia” in “Duck Soup”.
The BIG question….Who would be Rufus T. Firefly ?

Then, WE could make our own “Law of the internet”.

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