Chapter 3: Democratizing the Means of Production

The author speaks of the existing system, in which the means of production are held by a few and most people are employees (who do not own the product they help to produce) and consumers (who purchase the product of the few producers). He suggests that technology is leading toward a decentralization of the means of production.

(EN: This is short-sighted in one way and hyperbolic in another. Prior to the industrial revolution all production was decentralized - it was only in the era of mass-production and mass-distribution that production was centralized into large operations. And centralization was largely limited to tangible consumer goods - few services were effectively centralized. At the same time, it is greatly exaggerated, as the democratization is limited by capabilities. It is easy to democratize things that can be produced by a small shop, but hard to democratize things that require a sizable organization or capital investment.)

He then turns to the straw-man of the entertainment industry, which for years controlled the entertainment industry through ownership of the means of production (film studios, radio stations, printing presses) or the channels of distribution (record stores, movie theaters, etc.).

He turns to the example of a student who created an animated feature that was released on YouTube and allegedly became "a cult hit" and got a screening at a major film festival. A number of distributors showed interest in the film, but he found them to be very demanding: allowing them to release the film at theaters meant he had to cede all rights over it - he couldn't put it out on the internet, sell copies on DVD, or anything. Getting involved with the industry meant signing away all rights over your work.

There's also some criticism of the entertainment industry - film producers have been stifled by the movie industry for years. It's difficult to get financing and backing to shoot a film while retaining any sort of control over the work. And while there is a budding "indie" film industry, it has also become very quickly bureaucratic. For film makers, the choice is to compromise their vision to get support from the mainstream media or labor in "uncorrupted obscurity" as an independent.

Now that people have access to cheap and user-friendly software, it opens the entertainment industry to independent musicians, filmmakers, writers, and other creators to turn out product and sell directly to the market. This has been possible for years, but still has not become a reality. Much user-generated content is simply awful, and it's so difficult to find quality work among the mountains of junk that it's not worth the effort - hence the media remains dominated by a small handful of large players.

So the Internet provide a ready means of distribution, and the tools of production are also cheaper. Digital video cameras have become extremely cheap, and the software to edit film is often included on any personal computer. There is also a plentitude of tutorials and other instructional material online that can teach amateurs to produce quality work.

The author concedes that there are very few interesting films lost in a sea of truly awful and unwatchable garbage that's of no interest to anyone other than "the creator and his or her friends and family." He will admit that 99% of it is complete garbage - but then mentions that 1% of a very large number can be substantial. That is, if 99% of YouTube's 80 million videos are complete garbage, that means that there are 800,000 of them that are rather well done, which is entertainment enough for a lifetime.

Another diversion: he speaks of the various "revolutions" in communication, from the printing press to desktop publishing and now the Internet. It was once very difficult for a person to share their ideas with others, and now it is very simple to publish a blog. (EN: But as in the previous example, the ability to publish doesn't endow a person with something worthwhile to say or the ability to say it well.)

He then turns to the concept of democratizing education. There is presently a growing trend for home-schooling children, given the dissatisfaction parents have of the quality of public school education. But it has the potential to go much further than that. The internet is full of educational materials and tutorials that teach people practical skills. It may seem farfetched, but it's conceivable that education will be revolutionized - rather than going to a university to learn a profession, people can learn what they need to do a task online.

Returning to the entertainment media, he mentions that there are many tutorials online for aspiring filmmakers, and it is possible to learn everything online that is taught in universities about filmmaking. It's suggested that this may lead to greater innovation, as universities are awash in politics - the "education" process is often more about indoctrination. Students grades are often based not on whether they grasp the skills needed to make films, but on the faculty's assessment of whether the students will make the kind of films they think ought to be made.

The same can be said of virtually every subject, even the hard sciences that are supposed to be objective and free from political corruption. If the Internet can provide information without indoctrination, then the fetters placed upon innovation are removed - and this can be truly revolutionary.

The chapter includes a few stories about an online video program shot on a shoestring budget and bands who distribute their music in digital-only format. Nothing new added to what has been said above about the accessibility of the equipment and distribution channels.

There's another story that emphasizes the importance of social networking to promote things online. It's easy to post a novel, film, or song to various online distribution sites but it becomes lost in the clutter. To be successful, a creator must build a large network of fans who will help draw attention to their products on these various sites. Being "found" by the market is the greatest hurdle for many.