Furthest Right

Artificial scarcity means big margins

Access control technologies such as DRM create “scarcity” where there is immeasurable abundance, that is, in a world of digital reproduction. The early years saw tech such as CSS tapped to prevent the copying of DVDs, but DRM has become much more than that. It’s now a behavioral modification scheme that permits this, prohibits that, monitors you, and auto-expires when. Oh, and sometimes you can to watch a video or listen to some music.

The basic point is that access control technologies are becoming more and more refined. To create new, desirable product markets (e.g., movies for portable digital devices), the studios have turned to DRM (and the law) to create the scarcity (illegality of ripping DVDs) needed to both create the need for it and sustain it. Rather than admit that this is what they’re doing, they trot out bogus studies claiming that this is all caused by piracy. It’s the classic nannying scheme: “Because some of you can’t be trusted, everyone has to be treated this way.” But everybody knows that this nanny is in it for her own interests.


The music industry, book industry, and movie industry were founded on a simple principle: the scarcity of their product.

They really hit the big time when they stopped aiming for quality. Classical? That’s difficult — we’ve got trendier and simpler jazz, blues and rock/pop. Literature? That’s difficult — we’ve got Romance novels and self-help books. Artistic movies? That’s difficult — instead, there’s blockbusters and pseudo-art films to depress then uplift you.

They liked products they could pump out easily and make a ton of profit by convincing people these easily-created products were important because they were:

  • New/novel.
  • Shocking/groundbreaking.
  • Unique/ironic.
  • Important/Revolutionary.

But they never said: whole, good or informative.

Like junk food, there’s an unstated assumption customers must state to close the gap. “Oh, it’s food!” they say. The McDonald’s rep says nothing, having just told a federal court that actually, it’s a confection not intended as nutritional sustenance.

This is why the publishing, movie and music industries are failing right now. It’s not that piracy did them in; and despite how good this Ars Technica article is, it’s not that lack of individual product scarcity did them in. It’s that lack of scarcity across the board plus piracy has shown people how the product is only rewarding for a short period of time, so they’re less likely to pay for it.

The industry needs to reinvent itself along some lines other than the blockbuster — cheap product, massive sales to lowest common denominator — model.

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