Friday, May 11, 2012

Free samples

Seth compares free sample consumers at a farmer's market to those of digital media; the first are characterised as vultures, eating into the traders' margins, while online the samples cost the provider nothing. I think he's basically right. I also think the careless consumers of free samples could be better managed with some psychology: put the samples nearer the traders and further away from the punters. It requires more boldness to pick up a sample from right in front of the vendor than to take a couple from an unobserved plate. There's some psychology to be mixed into the digital free sample as well. Every piece of digital media should have its origin printed through it like a stick of rock; in the filename, in the audio track, in the image. Never leave someone searching for the source of a file. My divergence from Seth in general is that I think content will be freely and widely distributed in the future; not because it's pirated, but because it's given away. And not just samples; free stuff won't just be a taster for the paid stuff, because there's no sensible way to make digital media into a commodity that you buy. In this future, the storefront doesn't exist. You hear a great new piece of music because a friend shares it with you, or your content aggregators suggest it. You go to the source of it to get some more, which is also free. And you add the creator of it to the list of people you thank with money. No storefront, because the product sells itself. No artificial scarcity of 'tasters', or 'free samples'. Free will be implicit, because everything is 'free' at the point of consumption. Samples could perhaps be the paid addon; the extra detail that only remixers and fans want. When the tail is so long, only a tiny minority can be 'sold' with specific marketing, salesmen, etc. The vast majority will have to sell itself.