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Apr 20, 2009

Commentary on and related to VODO

… Stuff we found around the Web that Google Alerts was not telling us about:

Henrik Moltke: “[VODO wouldl] enable a work to be reliably connected to the creator, despite the free and unrestricted sharing of the work on the Internet. VODO would enable appreciative fans to send donations in an easy, frictionless way to creators—more conveniently than PayPal, for example. It would begin to help finance a new commons-based sector of production. If I had any money to invest in this, I would :”

OpenDemocracy: ‘Steal this donation, donate this theft.’ Tony Curzon Price discusses our plans for a future ‘Donation Incentive System’, first presented at iCommons in 2008.

Alex Tarkowski: The Amateur, the Audience, the Crowd, and other strange forms of journalism (and the crisis too!)’

Project VRM Blog: What’s the Overlap Between VRM and VODO? A commenter to this post mentions The Contingency Market. This then links to the, which has similarities to Peter Sunde’s Flattr project and Kachingle.

From there, I note that Crosbie Fitch from Brighton, UK, who’s behind both The Contingency Market at, offered these principles on the Project VRM mailing list:

  1. Publish it – and they will come.
  2. If people think it’s worth paying for, let them pay. If they don’t, improve the product.
  3. Make the decision to pay easy – a token amount – a penny.
  4. Make the intention to pay easy – a click of a button – the actual payment invariably isn’t (save it up for a rainy day).
  5. Payment is voluntary, but not a donation – make the deal clear – value for money.
  6. Your customers are not your enemy, but your ambassadors.

While our ideas are a bit different here, I think Crosbie Fitch has some sensible things to say:

Moreover, and this is what I think people are still missing (cf Kachingle), it’s ‘wanting to micropay’ not ‘wanting to be microcharged’ – a dominant, not a submissive act. Moreover, it’s ‘wanting to pay for work to be produced’, not ‘wanting to be microcharged for consuming content already produced’. The latter still reveals contamination by the copyright mentality, that if one benefits from or consumes another’s art one becomes indebted (a disturbingly pervasive mindset that has polluted contemporary culture).

The micropayment must be captured as close as is possible to the decision to pay, because that is precisely the moment at which the payer has sunk the cost of the decision and can absorb the minute friction of executing that decision in the form of a button click. What Shirky explains is that we cannot impose the cost of a decision upon members of an audience (microcharging). However, as I contend, this does not mean that a member of the audience will not wish to make such a decision of their own volition (micropayment).

Even so, we must remain vigilant that we don’t slip back into the misadventure of inviting people to submit themselves to microcharging, e.g. “Give us your credit card and we’ll charge you a penny per page view for consuming our premium content”. That touches on another critical aspect – are you paying for the production of the art, a copy of it, or its use?

Payment: “This is good. I want more. Heck, I’ll pay you to produce more. Where do I click?”

Charging: “I feel indebted to you each time I consume your work. Please keep track of my consumption and bill me later.”

Through Crosby Fitch/ Project VRM we also learn about PayChoice although it’s not clear how it works.

Jun 15, 2008

VODO: “Addressing the problem”

Thanks to OSTATIC for writing about VODO (and note to people wanting to cover VODO: write to us! We might have new news.) Ashwin N. (whom we assume is Bittorrent’s Ashwin Navin) writes:

While they are trying to address the problem, I really don’t see them being successful at this. Let us face it. Not too many people donate. Look at the Causes application on Facebook. A large number of users. Very little raised by way of donations…

There are a number of interesting points raised in Ashwin’s little comment, many of which we’ve thought through and talked about:

(1) What would we count as a ‘success’ for VODO? For example, would it be enough if we created a robust, scalable system that was cheap to run and could provide for more people to get more donations more of the time? And conversely,

(2) What counts a failure? Do we fail if we do not revolutionise the music and film industries in some set period of time? Do we fail if we are not used by some percentage of filesharers?

(3) “Let us face it. Not too many people donate.” Of course we have faced it, since we’ve been honest about the amount of donations to STEAL THIS FILM and about the fact that these are insufficient to make another film. However, history teaches us that technolgy changes behaviour rapidly. Before Napster, people didn’t download so much. One could image a music exec saying, as Ashwin now does, ‘Let’s face it. People don’t download.’ Only a year later he would not only be proved wrong, he’d be facing a complete change in his industry. So it’s not enough to talk about what people do or don’t do right now. We have to think about what outcomes are desirable, and try to sculpt systems that can help them to occur. In later stages of VODO, we hope to directly address the question “what makes people donate”, try to make it fun — and more than fun, beneficial — to donate. We’re really open to anyone who has ideas about how to get people to voluntarily (as opposed to co-ercively) support culture.

(3) “A large number of donations. Very little raised…” We’re trying to research stats on this at the moment… How much would “very little” have to be before we beat what goes to artists through “old” or “traditional” distribution. There is a figure of $.50 going to a musician, for example, from each sale of a mechanically reproduced album. So does that mean that if 1 in 10 people donate $5.00, we will be doing just as well as the traditional industry? Or is there some underlying problem we’re not seeing?

(4) “Problem”, “Addressing”. What is the “problem” of filesharing? If we phrase it as a problem, aren’t we missing something? Shouldn’t it rather be called, properly, an “opportunity”?

We love the fact that people are thinking with us about VODO and we say hi to Ashwin and wish him well. :) The news from the development team is that it’s all good, although we’ve been a bit annoyed by PayPal’s inconsistent nomenclatures.

Apr 23, 2008

‘When Information Is Free, What’s the Business Plan?’

We met David Bollier of On The Commons at the recent Economies of the Commons conference in Amsterdam. Now David has this to say concerning our plans for VODO:

What happens when video, music and information can be distributed for free, or nearly so? Well, we’re about to find out—and many of our largest, most capitalized institutions are going to feel the repercussions. Many barriers that once kept information artificially scarce—things like copyright law, digital rights management, and limited bandwidth and computing power—are under siege, if not collapsing. Some people are predicting that copyrighted works will experience a “Bear Stearns moment” in the future, when prices of copyrighted works plummet. An IP bubble, as it were.

Which leaves us with the question…. so how will creativity and information be financed in such an environment? The world can’t survive on the amateur talent of bloggers and remix artists [...]

VODO… stands for “voluntary donations.” The idea is to put unique digital fingerprints on video and other content distributed on BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. This will enable a work to be reliably connected to the creator, despite the free and unrestricted sharing of the work on the Internet. VODO would enable appreciative fans to send donations in an easy, frictionless way to creators—more conveniently than PayPal, for example. It would begin to help finance a new commons-based sector of production.

But would people actually donate? King said that Steal This Film—without any VODO system—received donations of about 0.1 percent (1 in 1,000 viewers) in the first two months after its release. Donations were mostly in the $15 to $40 range. When the band Radiohead released its album under a “pay what you want” scheme, about 30% of downloaders voluntarily paid some amount—enough to exceed the revenues the band would have received through a traditional record label deal. King hopes that VODO will result in donations of 10%. To help boost the viral effectiveness of the scheme, third party websites that implement VODO would get a small cut of the transaction.

Mind you, VODO is still an idea, not a functioning system. But it is an intriguing model for financing the commons, or augmenting the vitality of already functioning commons.

We hurry to say that our fingerprinting scheme is in very early days and that we won’t be able to really know how well it will function until we have a big database of works to play with.

Apr 19, 2008

Could 10-15% of people be donors?

Stoffel Debuysere of Diagonal Thoughts has some thoughts about (our plans for) VODO amongst in-depth reflection on the Economies Of The Commons conference:

Basically VODO’s aim is to provide a revenue stream for creators of media content, shared through P2P networks. Via a series of technologies would-be donors can be smoothly connected to these creators wherever their works are shared. King forsees a 10-15% of the users giving donations, of which third parties (Pirate Bay, VLC) would recieve a cut – the service costs have to be paid of course (f.e Stage6 recently went bankrupt… VODO is a promising initiative, looking forward to see how it works out.

Right now the 10-15% figure is simply something we’re hoping for. Here are some figures we know about:  according to the Wall Street Journal (probably referencing Wikipedia), 75% of people donated to Part 1 of Stephen King’s online novel The Plant; later on in the series of installments “only” 46% did so. (This fell short of his expectations and he never finished the project.)

According to a ComScore report, of those who downloaded Radiohead’s digital album, In Rainbows, about 38 percent of people paid something even though the website made it very difficult to do so. (About 17 percent paid up to $4, 12 percent paid between $8 and $12, 6 percentbetween $4.01 and $8 and 4 percent between $12 and $20.) Estimates on SlashDot were that the band made $6 million from the album. ‘In terms of digital income,’ said Thom Yorke, ‘we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever – in terms of anything on the Net. And that’s nuts. It’s partly due to the fact that EMI wasn’t giving us any money for digital sales. All the contracts signed in a certain era have none of that stuff.’

Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor released Ghosts I-IV online partly distributing it through The Pirate Bay. Unlike Radiohead he was open about the sales. 800,000 transactions (including free and paid downloads as well as orders for physical product), generated $1.6 million in sales revenue in the first week of the album’s availability. But we don’t yet know how much of these sales were down to donations.

Let me know if you find other examples of creators giving their works away along with figures of how many people donated to them and it’ll help us get an idea of expectations.

Apr 14, 2008

Economies of the Commons

On Saturday April 12 Jamie King was in Amsterdam, Netherlands at Economies of the Commons, presenting some of the ideas behind and experience of STEAL THIS FILM along with Ton Rosendaal from Blender Foundation. Jamie concluded by explaining the VODO project. Commenting on the presentations were Jon Phillips of Creative Commons and Felix Stalder of Nettime. There’s a few blog posts out there on the panel including this one from Images for the Future.

Amongst other people presenting at the conference Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archives, David Bollier of On The Commons, and Jeff Ubois from ArchivalTV.

I was approached by quite a few people after with questions and offers of support. A couple of nights later, I got to discuss VODO (amongst other things) with a few people including Eddan Katz of EFF and Henrik Moltke of Good Copy Bad Copy. Henryk’s view was that the danger of the STEAL THIS FILM ‘model’ is that people might think that they can ‘give up the day job’ and start giving creative stuff away for free online in expectation of a decent wage, when in actual fact, they can’t. I disagreed, saying that while it would definitely be a great thing if creators could earn a living wage through sharing their works, we also have to take into account that commons-based production and distribution is opening unprecedented possibilities to create, distribute and be heard — and in some cases, to earn some money doing so. It’s possible that providing that ‘little slice’ of the pie to many more new creators (see, ‘amateurs’ or ‘users’) is as or more important than providing ‘big slices’ to those who style themselves as ‘pro’ creators.

What constitutes ‘reality’ when thinking about how people survive, live and thrive in this world, whether from their creative works or otherwise? Is it a requirement that we should be able to provide as many people as possible with a ‘living wage’ or will it be sufficient to bring smaller amounts to more people?