Here is an excerpt from Jaron Lanier’s book, You are Not a Gadget, where Jaron describes a new piece of hardware, the songle, that creates artificial scarcity in the music world. It also brings the romance of tangibility back to music collecting and it solves a huge problem in digital economics, the way music is free for everyone but the artists who work so hard to make it . I don’t want to leave anything out so I’ll diligently type Jaron’s explanation straight from his book. In his words:
A songle is a dongle for a song. A dongle is a little piece of hardware that you plug into a computer to run a piece of commercial software. It’s like a physical key you have to buy in order to make the software work. It creates artificial scarcity for the software.
All the tchotchkes of the world- the coffee mugs, the bracelets, the nose rings- would serve double duty as keys to content like music.
There’s a green angle here. All the schemes that presently succeed in getting people to pay for content involve the manufacture of extra hardware that would not otherwise be needed. These include music players such as iPods, cable TV boxes, gaming consoles, and so on. If people paid for content, there would be no need for these devices, since commonplace computer chips and displays would be good enough to perform all these tasks.
Songles would provide a physical approach to creating artificial scarcity. It might be less difficult to make the transition to songles than it would be to implement a more abstract approach to bringing expression back under the tent of capitalism.
You might wear a special necklace songle to a party, and music enabled by the necklace would come on automatically after you arrived, emanating from the entertainment system that is already providing the party with music. The necklace communicates with the entertainment system in order to make this happen. The musical mix at an event might be determined by the sum of the songles worn by everyone who shows up.
Why bring physical objects back into music distribution?
- To make the music business more romantic: That’s not just and enhancement; it’s the central issue. Romance in the broadest sense, is the product the music business sells. Contracts and credit card numbers are not romantic.
- To lower the cost of promotion: Music production and distribution costs have become low, but promotion costs are limitless. Since a songle is an object instead of a contract, its value is determined by the marketplace and can vary over time, even if traded informally. In order to means that a songle can be an object for speculative investment. A fan who takes the trouble to listen to obscure new bands might benefit from having speculated on some of the bands’ songles when they were unknown. Songles harness the psychology that makes lottery tickets sell to get people to listen to music acts. Even better” once a person buys a songle, she is motivated to join in promoting its music, because she now has a stake in it.
- To broaden the channels by which music is sold and share promotion costs with players in those channels: High-end songles can be sold as accessories at fashion stores, while low-end songles might come bundled with a six-pack. Coffee mugs, sneakers, toothbrushes, dog collars, pens, and sunglasses would all make fine songles.
- To raise the margin for high-prestige but low-volume (in the business sense!) music: The stupidest thing among many stupid things in the music business is that the product always costs about the same even when a market segment would naturally choose a higher price if it were allowed to do so. For instance, a well-heeled opera fan pays about the same for a CD or a download as does a teenager listening to a teen idol of the moment. Songles for opera of fine jazz would be made by craftsmen from fine materials in much more limited editions. They would be expensive. Low-end songles would be manufactured by the same channel taht provides toys. An increasing number of consumer items that might become songles these days have radio-frequency identification anyway, so there would be no additional manufacturing expense. Expensive limited-edition songles would probably accompany the introduction of new forms of pop music- in parallel with cheap large-volume editions-because there would be a fabulous market for them.
Wow! Songles. I want some.
Here’s some music to draw to. Right now I’m cutting stencils for Keenan. I’ve been exposed to a lot more graffiti since moving west. I want to learn airbrushing soon. God I hope I never die so I can do it all. And the songle, man, crazy…