Jaron Lanier wrote a paper for MTS Allstream, the Prairie telco, which was delivered last December for a CRTC hearing. It is almost impossible to find on the CRTC site and isn’t visible elsewhere, but seems rather important in the discussion of how to promote Canadian identity online.

In his (evidently correct or at least persuasive) analysis, the only way to make money selling multimedia online is to tie such selling to a certain bit of hardware like an iPod. Every other attempt has failed; we’ve watched a ten-year parade of such attempts, so let’s stop pretending somebody is likely to come up with a magic bullet. (And it doesn’t work for everything – iTunes doesn’t sell much video.)

However (and here Lanier rides his virtual-reality hobbyhorse), perhaps with hugely expanded Internet infrastructure, new forms of entertainment, like tele-immersion, may be technologically practicable and actually profitable, because they will be so magical as to be worth paying for.

I don’t see how someone with Lanier’s integrity would take a corporate consulting assignment on the understanding that the outcome were predetermined, but he does seem to make the case, apparently independently, that taxing an ISP or somehow otherwise making CanCon cost more will merely subsidize existing business models or drive Canadian producers to host their content overseas. This is, nonetheless, exactly the position MTS takes.

(And, in a nice little detail, Lanier predicts that Canadians who came from other cultures might just make OtherCultureCon from their Canadian home bases. Isn’t that what we already do when we shoot Battlestar Galactica in Vancouver?)

In the grand tradition of fair dealing, I made an HTML version for review and comment. Some of Lanier’s bons mots (excerpted):

  1. The Internet as it exists today is generous in granting fame, but stingy in granting fortune.

  2. Can a nation’s creative community remain vibrant if it is no longer earning much money? As a musician like Dallas Green lives his life, has children, and so on, will he be able to continue to tour and interact with fans to the degree needed to self-promote on the Internet? It is possible that the Internet will give rise to a great many promising early creative careers, but few, if any, lifetime careers, unless some form of the old mainstream media can continue as a parallel option that generates revenues for content producers.

  3. An extremely amateurish video of a music performance posted on YouTube or MySpace will occasionally gain a huge instant audience. The reasons are somewhat random. The crowd of eyeballs has to converge on something once in a while. Attention in the online universe is like weather, and sometimes there is a random storm.

  4. [W]e must now measure the Internet as if it were a part of nature, instead of from the inside, in the way that we can examine the books of a financial enterprise. We must explore it as if it is unknown territory, even though we laid it out.

  5. It is the non-glamorous events of life where most people spend most of their time and focus most of their concerns, and Google has found a way to commercialize them. The highest-paying Google advertisers are apparently American lawyers.

  6. [T]here has been an endless parade of optimistic, high visibility ventures trying to find the secret sauce that will reverse the trend. After more than a decade of failures, however, it is becoming reasonable to treat all such quests as quixotic.

  7. It might be true that the majority of amateur video production that involves a significant degree of planning or staging, as opposed to spontaneous Webcam presence, in the online domain takes the form of fan-generated parodies, tributes, and other derivative material.

  8. We have witnessed a remarkable inversion of the fundamental dynamics that preceded the appearance of the Internet. The majority of seemingly-professional content flows over an open system, the Internet, where there is no need to apportion spectrum, and also no way to earn money from content. Instead, entrepreneurs develop proprietary hardware devices to deliver the same content. When content flows to proprietary gadgets it can earn money, and only then.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.03.16 16:06. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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