If you believe consumers should be allowed to freely share music, movies, and books over the Internet, then you've probably read Mike Masnick.
He's the founder and operator of Techdirt, a blog that champions the search for alternative business models for distributing songs, books, and movies. In that vein, Techdirt announced yesterday that it is launching a new message board that will pool the ideas and experiences of musicians, filmmakers, and writers who are experimenting with new ways to support their art.
The new discussion platform, which is designed in a Q&A style, can be found at Insightcommunity.com (registration required). In addition, Masnick is offering $10,000 to people who submit the best case studies, or "success stories," they've had in building an alternative business model.
Techdirt is already a place where ideas on this topic are exchanged, but Masnick said interest has mushroomed and he doesn't have the time to field all the questions he receives from interested artists.
"In thinking about this, we realized that what's really missing out there is a true community to help people figure this stuff out," Masnick wrote on his site. "There's really no great place for a content creator to ask people how can they better connect with a fan base. There's really no great place out there for an artist to compare different store hosting platforms to see which ones might serve her needs better...So we built one."
While Masnick is known largely as a proponent of free content, he told me that he doesn't believe content should always be free. He said part of the trick to online distribution is figuring out when to charge for content and when not to. He says, however, he believes more than ever that the Internet has produced new ways for content creators to distribute their own work profitably without inviting the influence of big studios, music labels, or book publishers.
His arguments have struck a chord with a large segment of Internet users.
Some copyright owners, however, have argued that Masnick's ideas are wrong. They say that he's just another one of the people who wish to get their hands on films and songs without paying for them. Rob Levine, author of "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying The Culture Business," a new book about how technology has hurt content creation, argues that the pursuit of alternative business models, those who attempt to give content away and try to generate revenue with merchandise and ad sales, have been around for 10 years.
He said many predicted after the rise of the music file-sharing service Napster that a thriving free market would emerge.
In the book, Levine notes that this was 10 years ago. He asks where, after so much time, is this market?
Masnick said he's more encouraged than ever about alternative business models and says that the market has arrived but has grown slowly largely because of a lack of infrastructure. More importantly, he said artists have lacked the knowledge and understanding of these business models until much more recently.
"I think that more down on the ground, the direct-to-fan (movement) has only caught on realistically for the last year or so," Masnick said. "It's been 10 years since Napster, but there was this eight-year period where few people knew what to do. People were shell shocked. They were focused mostly on changing copyright law and there was little effort to find value. It's only been recently that people started to look for it."