Over these six articles, we have started to scrape the surface of new music business models in the post-scarcity era. And while we’ve covered quite a bit of ground, don’t expect that this is even the complete first word on the subect, much less the last!

The common themes here have been reinvention and DIY; they’re the hallmarks everyone must show in a period of critical flux. Musicians and artists have long had to reinvent themselves throughout their careers; we’re just in a particularly acute period for it.

This installment is a bit of potpourri; several topics, all of them are important, but none quite substantial enough to merit individual posts.

First, the long-tail theory.

yeah, like that

The long-tail theory of making money, which emphasis the value of holding your own recordings and rights, isn’t nearly as important as when proposed back in 2004. It is still a valueable insight, and you still see people talking about it, and the value of residuals over long periods of time. But, well…

If people don’t buy recorded music, the long tail value of zero is still zero.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about holding your own rights, doing your own recording, and so on. Where it does have value is in liscensing for other commercial works in new productions, such as soundtracks. A song I recorded on Dick Tracy Must Die is going on the Bone Walker soundtrack, in new form; that’s actual value.

There’s also potential value in having more than one thing to sell – and getting a higher percentage of those profits – to new fans. Keep your old stock around. But the primary late-discovery late-sales argument you see bantered around strikes me as already out of date.

The thousand fan theory, the second item I want to hit today, holds up great in this new environment. To elucidate, this theory postulates that if you can build a thousand dedicated fans who are vested in, who buy everything, you’re set.

A smaller number of REALLY big fans might also work

Don’t aim for a mass market that’s coming apart; aim for the sliver most relevant to you. If you can get a thousand people to buy in, well, you have to work to keep them happy, and making new things they want, but that’s a career.

Just remember you always have people falling off the end of that – it’s completely natural – so you can’t just get there and relax.

Finally, I have very little idea what to do about eBooks. eBooks, god. eBooks don’t have shows, eBook writers don’t have tours (and readings don’t count), but on the other hand, they’re often naturals at blogging! And that helps build community. But it’ll still be all about preloading payment if the book publishing industry is dumb enough to follow the RIAA lead.


Right now, publishers still have a nice amount of goodwill, and readers are often more atuned to the idea of supporting their writers, so those are both big advantages. But if the industry doesn’t ditch DRM and device-dependency right now, they’re going to burn all that away.

One potential solution is going back to Dickens’s pay-per-installment model, publishing in chapters. Lawrence Watt-Evans is one midlist F&SF writer doing this already; it seems to be working for him. I’m also pretty sure the thousand-fan theory applies well here. But the hindrance is that most people read most books that they do read exactly once, so you have your one shot, unlike music, where they’ll replay it later and maybe decide to like you enough to pay you then.

If you have any ideas, let me know, because eBook people may need them even more than musicians do!

So that’s it for this week. Next week I’ll wrap this up, and start a new series – you guys interested in the studio buildout series or How Facebook Destroys Everything? I’m thinking studio buildout, some nice DIY to leven all the business noise.

AND! TORONTO! I AM IN YOU! And I have a show tomorrow night, 7pm, house concert north of the Beaches. Email for details or check the show page!

This is Part Six of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of articles about, well, what it says on the tin. There are no barriers to availability now, and copying is free. What’s a musician to do now?