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Generatives: Authenticity and Accessibility

Kevin Kelly outlined eight “generatives” in his article, Better Than Free, defined as qualities or attributes which must be “generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured… not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced.” These are qualities or attributes that remain scarce and valuable while digital goods become abundant and available at no cost. These are the qualities or attributes that, when combined with digital goods, make for successful business.

I’m going to examine authenticity and accessibility.

Authenticity

The first example that comes to mind is Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Red Hat was just named America’s 11th fastest-growing company by Forbes. They run their business on free and open source software. Their main GNU/Linux distribution, RHEL, is free software so it can be copied and it is copied. Yet, Red Hat still has customers paying a lot of money for their product, even while it’s available at no cost from other sources. Why is that? Authenticity. Red Hat has trust. They have a reputation of reliability. For years, they were the name in Linux. Large enterprises turn to Red Hat because they want to be assured of quality (amongst other reasons, such as support). RHEL is released under free software licenses, so Red Hat doesn’t weild copyright to restrict the software it develops. However, it makes use of trademark law extensively. Anyone else – even competitors – are free to copy, share, modify and distribute its code, but they must remove any references to Red Hat. Thus, Red Hat maintains control over the brand while maintaining software freedom.

Another good example, as Kevin points out, is with music.

There are nearly an infinite number of variations of the Grateful Dead jams around; buying an authentic version from the band itself will ensure you get the one you wanted. Or that it was indeed actually performed by the Dead.

Live recordings are one example where people will pay for authenticity. Lyrics might be another, at least as part of a package. Lyrics are abundant; there are countless lyric websites and a simple web search will turn up a ton of results for most songs. However, accuracy is often in question. Many songs have at least an ambiguous line or two. (I’ve encountered this when working on parodies.) People probably wouldn’t purchase lyrics on their own, but the authenticity of lyrics adds value to a package (e.g. a CD). They might contribute, at least, to a package people will pay for.

Even if authentic lyrics don’t translate into something being sold (lyrics can be easily copied), the authenticity can be part of a strategy to differentiate between various copies of the lyrics. If an artist, for example, posts authentic lyrics to their website, they may increase traffic as fans will trust those lyrics over copies on third party web sites. Authenticity – as with the other generatives – can even be used to add value to content available at no cost.

Accessibility

This is a tough one for me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m the type of guy (read: geek) who has access to his own servers and often carries around a laptop and a handheld computer, so accessibility is something I have the means to (and prefer to) address on my own.

But I don’t find Kevin’s examples convincing. He talks about subscription services, which manage accessibility and backup for the user. But subscription services are a niche market. Music subscription services simply don’t match up to ownership and they simply haven’t caught on with the majority of music fans.

Maybe my idea of accessibility is different from his. For me, accessibility, when it comes to digital audio files, isn’t a subscription service that I can access anywhere. I don’t have problems taking my files with me. For me, accessibility is ownership. It’s control. It’s being able to really access my files, rather than just use them. It’s being able to put them on my laptop, on my digital audio player, to build my own library of files which I own and have access to it (as opposed to access being restricted through attempts at copy control). For me, a subscription service has little appeal because access ends when you stop paying. I would rather have access through ownership, and I would pay for it.

That said, Kevin also mentions other subscription services. I might be interested in a movie subscription service. My idea of access for movies is different because I, personally, don’t feel the need to have control or ownership of a movie library in the same way as I do for music. Maybe access means different things to different people for various types of content. The answer here seems to be providing value through the type of access people desire. People will pay for the sort of accessibility they seek.

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