Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Steal This Book" and other brand-building strategies

Our Album comes out tomorrow. You’d think this would make me happy, but, oddly really, it doesn’t. It is a horribly exposing feeling. You know when you see Heather Mills or someone being excoriated in the press and you don’t feel bad about it because you know (and she knows) that at some point and at some level she was asking for it? Well, I’m fairly sure that the day you release an album is the day that you cross that line – they might not give it me, but I’m asking for it. I’ve offered part of myself for sale: I’m now fair game. It is enough to send you scurrying back to the cellar-based poetry scene you came from, miserable verse in hand, sorry about what you said about the bongo drummer they brought in and begging to be allowed back.

I should be getting over myself shortly.

In the meantime, I shall continue to enjoy the small and rare pleasures. For example – two weeks ago I was delighted to be able to download my album off bitTorrent. Whatever the people who invented it claim, there can’t be many people in the world who can claim to have used bittorrent entirely legally, but I am now one of them and it feels pretty good.

I have to admit to about ten minutes of outrage – (‘What? These people are stealing from me! Right! Well! I shall get Scotland Yard on the phone at once! This must be stopped!’) – before I remembered what I think about bitTorrent and calmed down. For those I’ve yet to bore with the details of What I Think About BitTorrent, here is a brief precis:

1) The Internet will embody the entirety of human knowledge. Every bit of data that humanity has generated and then seen fit to record can be stored and readily accessed using it.
2) The simplicity of accessing this data makes it indistinguishable as a data store from the memory centres of the brain. Not just figuratively, but Literally, a human being at a computer is vastly more knowledgeable.
3) An abundance of knowledge usually leads to increases in Intelligence, Empathy and Creativity
4) The benefits to humanity of this development are incalculable and vast. They entirely dwarf the issue of copyright which looks absurd and petty by comparison. I want to get paid – I need to get paid – but, even without the obvious impracticality of enforcing my copyright, getting paid at the cost of impeding the flow of data around the world is, basically, a crime.

People will tell you that this is a dreadful way of looking at it because it devalues music. I read furious attacks on Radiohead for their ‘pay what you like’ branding exercise on exactly that basis. As I explained in this entry however, music does not have an intrinsic value, as supply vastly exceeds demand. What has scarcity power (and thus value) is a brand. And brands are far less susceptible to infringement by the free flow of data because one of the characteristics of brands is the self-enforcing desire for authenticity. In other words, if I make something ‘official’ that is identical to something ‘unofficial’ then my thing is worth more because people demand brand authenticity: It’s only gucci if gucci say it’s gucci. It’s only a fiver if the bank of england says it is.

So we need to think of better ways of getting paid and branding is probably the asnwer. It is for this reason that Julia is currently at her mothers making dolls of us. Like I said, we’re really asking for it now.

Half a league, Half a league...