Don’t bank on scarcity

a guest post by Brian O’Leary

For a meeting next week at the Internet Archive, I’ve been working on a brief presentation I’m calling “The Opportunity in Abundance”.  It’s one of my typically egg-headed mashups of trends in publishing, trends in technology, ideas cribbed from other businesses and some oddball research.

In developing the idea, I’ve talked about it with pretty much anyone who will listen.  (This may explain why people are no longer agreeing to have lunch with me.) After one of those conversations, Sarah Wendell sent me a link to a post about Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, who passed away in September at the age of 64.

Hart’s pioneering work in digitizing and sharing e-texts as much as 40 years ago provided a foundation for a lifetime of work exploring the implications of content abundance.  Moreover, he saw our era as “an” information age, the fifth in a series created by technology changes and in his view stifled by the over-zealous application of copyright law.

In this regard, Hart stands alongside William Patry, whose 2009 book, Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars, was the subject of an earlier post here.  If there is a lesson to be learned from Hart and Patry, it might be that efforts to re-create scarcity, whether through law or other means, are short-term solutions at best.

A brief note: Sara Wendell, who was kind enough to send me the link about Michael Hart, is currently on tour promoting her book, Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels.  Just sayin’ …

1 Comment

  1. Peter20 October, 2011

    But there is scarcity for ebooks- we just don’t recognize it because it is different than the scarcity involved with printing books.

    The ereaders themselves are a scarce resource (maximum ebook sales for any one particular work = number of accounts in existence), and so is the server capacity used to deliver and manage the ebooks.

    Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea for publishers to create their own “cloud” services. Apple and Amazon are too vertically integrated for a healthy market.

    I imagine that when Gutenberg invented the printing press, people just thought paper was an unlimited resource and the expense of printing was negligible. And when Ford came out with the model T people thought gas was unlimited and negligible as well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top