Cheap, Easy, Transparent Property Rights Institutions Are Key to Developing Long Tail

Chris Anderson points out that the main thing currently holding back the long tail, are legal restrictions in the form of clearing copyrights.  This is somewhat analogous to how the legal restrictions to starting up a small business, end up protecting the larger incumbent companies, a la Hernando de Soto’s The Other Path

Figuring out how to quickly and cheaply process small intellectual property rights claims is the key.  The assumption that this could and would be done was an underpinning of Bill Gates’ prediction of the key importance of content in his The Road Ahead.

If Gates’ vision could be realized, it would provide the consumer much greater variety (and much closer matches between what is sought and what is found); and it would provide many more producers of content, the opportunity to support themselves through their productive activities.  (As opposed to the current situation where most such producers must produce as a part-time, labor-of-love, while they support themselves by their unrelated ‘day job.’)

 

Books mentioned:

Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Gates, Bill. The Road Ahead. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

 

Microsoft’s VX-6000 LifeCam Really Stinks

  Microsoft’s VX-6000 LifeCam.  Source of image:  http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/images/gallery/hardware/WC6_Angle_Silver_lg.jpg

 

I posted this to Amazon.com, late on Thurs., Nov. 30, 2006:

I have spent a frustrating afternoon and evening trying to install the VX-6000 on a fully updated MS XP pro system. The install took forever, because every couple of minutes the install program couldn’t find a needed file (if they need it, why not put it on the install CD?). So I had to browse my system and point them to where the file was (why couldn’t they design the install program to search for the file instead of making me do it?). Finally I got a successful install, and then I was informed there was an updated version, and I needed to install that. So I went through the whole time-consuming process all over again, including the schtick about searching for the location of several files. Finally it again said I had installed the program successfully. So I rebooted my PC, and clicked on the Microsoft LifeCam icon. After cranking for awhile I get "initialization error". I try rebooting again—same error. So I type in "initialization error" in the search bar of the "help" section, and I get back "no topics found." So they sell me an expensive camera, run me ragged installing it, send me a repeated error message, and provide me no clue on what to do about it. (I guess now that Bill Gates is saving the world through philanthropy, nobody’s left minding the shop?)

 

The final comment is probably a bit too snide or harsh.  Microsoft has always had the deserved reputation of letting some products out the door before they are ready.  E.g., the first couple of versions of Windows paled in comparison to the graphical-user-interface operating system that Apple was offering at the time.  And the CD that accompanied Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead would not work on what was then Microsoft’s premier operating system:  Windows NT.

Maybe these kind of glitches result from a conscious operating strategy that gives employees a lot of freedom to make their own decisions.  The upside can be speedy decisions, and creativity.  The downside can be glitches such as the VX-6000 LifeCam.  Taking the broad, professorial view, maybe overall, the upside justifies the downside.  Tom Peters endorses companies accepting this trade-off rather than adopting layered, rule-bound, slow, bureaucratic decision-making.  (See his:  Re-imagine!)

(But did I mention that the VX-6000 LifeCam really stinks?) 

 

The reference to the Peters book is:

Peters, Tom. Re-Imagine! London: DK, 2003.

 

We Will Always Want More Income

Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and many others, have suggested that there is some level of income at which we will have enough, and want no more. 

David Friedman, in his price theory text, and others, have doubted this.  I am with the doubters.  I suspect that we sometimes think a certain amount of money would satiate us, because at some level way beyond our current income, it does not reward us to think too much about how we might spend so much money.

But if you are Rockefeller, and you see what good comes with founding universities, curing diseases, and the like, then you can easily imagine what good would come from even more money, even if, like Rockefeller, you are the richest person on the face of the earth.

In the discussion excerpted below, Robert Frank gives another argument for joining the doubters:  that as our income rises, so do our standards for quality.  (I think this argument is sound, but less important than the one sketched above.)  

 

When my wife and I were living in Paris a few years ago, we went out to dinner with well-to-do friends who were visiting from the United States.  The restaurant we chose had a good reputation and, by our standards, was not cheap.  But although my wife and I enjoyed our meals enormously, our friends found theirs disappointing.  I’m confident they were not trying to impress us or make us feel inferior.  By virtue of their substantially higher income, they had simply grown accustomed to a higher standard of cuisine.

. . .

By placing the desire to outdo others at the heart of his description of insatiable demands, Keynes relegated such demands to the periphery.  But the desire for higher quality has no natural limits.  Keynes and others were wrong to have imagined that a two-hour work week might someday enable us to buy everything we want.  That hasn’t happened and never will.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ROBERT H. FRANK.  "ECONOMIC SCENE; The More We Make, the Better We Want."  The New York Times  (Thurs., September 28, 2006):  C3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)