Instead of new discoveries and inventions, the true mark of progress is simply the trickling of technologies long used in industry, down into the hands of ordinary consumers. The wave of progress that was spawned by the computer age is no different; it brought to the general populace those technologies which are used in the creation, replication and dissemination of information, art and entertainment much to the dismay of content creators.

Content creators have spent the last two decades coming to terms with the realisation that for much of history their intellectual property rights have not been protected by law but rather by a different set of barriers. Up until then, content owners had relied on the high expense and general inaccessibility of the technologies used for duplication to keep copyright infringers at bay. With this obstacle out of the way, the judicial systems of the world could do little to hold back the tide.

The rise of the personal computer brought down these barriers so fast that a lot of the industries and professions built around intellectual property commercialization became obsolete almost overnight. The traditional business models used by producers and publishers of content became increasingly unsustainable.

Desktop publishing, desktop printing, the internet, file sharing and cheaper data storage technologies have all contributed to the creation of a world which is a nightmare for those who want to profit from their works using traditional earning strategies. However, some have adapted while some are still trying to with varying levels of success.

Public performances

There was once a time when musicians expected to make the bulk of their profits from record sales. Nowadays a lot of artists distribute their music either for free or at a low cost to the final consumer through various digital platforms such as Soundcloud and Youtube. If they fail or prefer not to do so they usually have legions of fans, some of whom will do it for them. These platforms allow artists to promote their art without having to jostle for playtime on radio and television like their predecessors. They are then able to cash in on any attention that they have garnered through shows, tours and other public appearances.

Artists used to do shows to promote their tapes and Cds, indeed they would be frantically trying to sell these at the same events. Since then the world has done an about-turn: shows are now the cash cows with more artists offering their recorded music for free. Holdouts are suffering because most of the people do not even know where music is physically sold nowadays.

Charging sponsors and advertisers

Artists are now ambassadors of various brands even though in most parts of the world the arrangements are usually more nuanced than those we have in Zimbabwe were artists sometimes dedicate whole songs to companies and their products. Some content creators, usually organisations rather than individuals operate as non-profits. They survive by accepting funding from other organisations and well-wishers they in-turn produce content for free.

Digital rights management systems

This is software which is designed to prevent or reduce the likelihood of unauthorized sharing of intellectual property. Various versions have been implemented over the years with varying levels of success. There are services that allow you to download content such as music, books and videos but which you can only view using their own dedicated software. This is an effective deterrent against casual piracy but these systems do not pose a significant challenge to determined individuals with proper skills. These systems have been criticized for degrading the user experience so much that they end up actually encouraging piracy.

Offer better convenience than pirates

When the late great Steve Jobs was selling the iTunes concept to a reluctant recording industry he kept pointing out that people wanted a legal way to access music digitally but no such options existed so they resorted to piracy. The same could be said about movies before the advent of services such as Netflix. Music and movie publishers have always wanted to stick to distribution mediums that they understood which ensured that they were always several steps behind current technology. Tech-savvy movie and music enthusiasts have always been happy to fill in the void.

Delaying the release of digital content

Movie studios usually try to squeeze as much profit as they can from theatre-goers before they release their movies via DVDs or for downloading via the internet. DVDs are therefore released a few months after the initial theatre release. This is most probably because they are trying to reduce the amount of their investment which will be stolen by unruly digital pirates. Traditional book publishers follow an almost similar strategy with most delaying or being completely reluctant to releasing the e-book versions of their titles. Hardcopy books can be copied but the process is more labour intensive and the final product is not as appealing as a proper e-book would have been.

Letting consumers pay what they want

Consumers are very skittish about prices. When it comes to digital content they are even more so because the internet has a difficult-to-shake legacy of free content inherited from its early days. Back then offering free content which would be subsidised by advertising was the best business model. Nowadays the amount of content on the internet is growing at a rate which is faster than that of its intended viewers. Pricing this content is still a tricky balancing act which has defeated a lot of people. You want to earn revenue but you do not drive your audience to piracy so some creators have come up with the strategy of allowing their consumers to pay what they want. This is effectively the online version of the street performer who takes any amount of money from appreciative audience members. With the astronomical reach of the internet, even such a simple strategy can earn a lot of money.