Something like that is going on with respect to online content, where the traditional models for monetizing copyright content are proving increasingly unworkable, giving way to uncertainty, if not down right fear and trembling, about how to extract revenues. The challenge in the classroom is to explore with students how IP rights impact, and are being impacted, by the search for workable business models. The effort is very much in a work-in-progress, as we collectively tear up the play book in the teacher-student exchange.
For the print media, the current buzz word is micropayments, which seems to mean charging for discrete items of content, usually as a premium offering that complements contents that are offered for free on the internet. Micropayments can be viewed as an alternative to an ad-based or subscription model for monetizing print contents. Be it the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, or Scientific American, the aim is condition readers to expect to pay for at least part of the fare offered on the website. The challenge is to recondition users to pay for contents that they have been receiving (or believe that they have been receiving) for free. Will anyone pay for these contents; if not, who will be creating these contents? This dynamic is progressing apace, and we will follow it carefully.
But, for the moment, let us focus on the struggle that is taking place with respect to visual content. Here, the copyright dynamic is different, characterized by a bifurcated world of visual content creation in which the amateur (for lack of a better term) exists alongside the professional. There is no better example than YouTube, especially since its acquisition by Google in 2006. Against this backdrop, the 3 September report
"for a three-month trial that would see YouTube begin offering streaming movie rentals ahead of the title"s sales date, with the studios receiving 60 percent of the revenues ...."The article goes on to mention that the arrangement, if it takes place, will follow similar arrangements reached by the studios with Amazon and iTunes.
The changing role of copyright in this proposed arrangement is fascinating. As we remember, when Google acquired YouTube, it reportedly budgeted a six-figure sum to address potential copyright infringement claims by professional copyright owners. The emphasis then seems to have been on maintaining the user-generated experience resting on the contributions of millions of amateur contributors, while fending off claims of copyright infringement that might have a materially deleterious affect on this experience. The relationship with professional contents owners was distinctively adversial.
The user-experience created an unparalled platform for capturing eyeballs interested in visual contents online. Revenues were a different story. How different can be seen by this most recent announcement. For Google, the transformation marks a potentially major shift in the way that it views the role of professional contents on the platform. No longer an adversary but a partner, the proposed arrangement underscores YouTube as a distribution platform, the value of which rests on its user base. With a reported nearly 8.95 billion (!) video sites viewed monthly on Google (read mostly YouTube), Google may be close to its High Noon monetizing moment. Are its viewers attracted by a distinct YouTuve viewer experience, or will the availability of commercially streamed contents drive users to other, more pristine sites? Stated otherwise, what will be the dynamics of the YouTube network effect when the platform creates an environment where "free" rubs up against "non-free".