Give it away to make money

We’ve discussed intellectual property issues on the board before, and in the UK there has been another great case to open source everything. It’s the band the Arctic Monkeys. Just months ago, they were total unknowns. They couldn’t sign on a label, so instead gave out copies of their demos at there concerts around England. Like usual, the demos ended up on websites and p2p networks. The public liked what they heard and started going to their shows. Domino Records ended up signing them after they heard about the buzz. Instead of attacking the sites that still have their demos posted, they told them to keep it all posted!

This January, the band had the top selling debut album in UK history and has launched a bit of a world tour. They aren’t as big as U2…yet, but it is a great success story that others in the music industry are already trying to reverse engineer.

Could a consultant or freelancer start-up meet with the same success by giving it all away?

I think it likely could happen, and it might, but to “engineer” it would probably prevent the rabid success that the Arctic Monkeys have found. Success, yes, but not runaway success. Its basically viral marketing, and the best viral marketing campaigns are never very ambitious, either in method or expectations. Its the intangible of human behavior that makes these campaigns moderately successful or amazingly successful.

So giving it all away probably could lead to some good things (I think I’m inadvertently trying this approach right now), but the right combination of people, work, and luck is the only way this type of thing is ever repeated, never strictly on method alone.

This type of thing fits pretty well into the Malcolm Gladwell/popular social science scene (the books Blink and Tipping Point, in particular). There are some very complex, but very interesting systems at work in situations like Arctic Monkeys.

The analogy is flawed. They may have been giving away their IP, but nobody could do anything with it because they are integral to the IP (their music). They perform it. Sure someone else could come along and record their song, but it wouldn’t be the same thing.

Designers and their work are not intrisically linked to each other like musicians and their music. If you publish your design work, someone else can come along and take it form there and manufacture your idea. They sure as hell won’t come back to you because they see a potential for greater markets because they don’t need you.

Musicians and their music are the final product - they are linked. Music is also not a physical product. It only becomes that via its distribution media (CD, MP3).

If you apply that analogy to design, it would mean you would have to manufacture your product (i.e. give it physical form) and then give it away for free, but you still control your IP.

Not exactly comparable, but I’ve occasionally thought of releasing all the drawings for things I make under a creative commons license. If you want to build one yourself (not for sale), feel free. After you start and realize you can’t do it for less money than I’m charging, come back. I don’t see it having an Arctic Monkeys kind of effect, but it might generate some good press from Wired at least.

I don’t know if i missed something in that article, but it sounds like they did the same thing that every other band i have ever heard of has done. You make a demo, give it away to friends, fans, and anyone else who will tollerate you in hopes that it will get you another gig, contact, or maybe if your lucky someone with funds will hear it and want to take you to the next level.

The internets have obviously opened new doors in means for getting yourself heard but at the same time it’s now a lot easier for anyone with a kazoo and a ti-85 to make a demo, so there still needs to be talent and appeal.

If you really want to talk about a open source pop-stars and engineering success you only need to know three letters.


there was a kid fresh out of shcool who designed all these concpets for companies without ther approval. he put of these “fake” products on a website…they were really well done, but obviously one knew they weren’t real projects…just a guy having some fun and slapping on nike, apple, and phillips logos…and inventing new products.

now he is working for such companies…not exactly the same thing, but similar…

doing shit for free pays off big time…

I did the same thing in school. Use a brand to jump start a project. I was always a bit scared to use their logos too prominently on my website. I guess that stems from hearing about all those lawsuits about 5 years ago against people who had logos from companies on their websites. I quickly took down the Porsche logo on my site after their lawsuits started!

Every band is really just a small business unless they get to U2 size.

The Arctic monkeys are employing a strategy more than a business plan. It is great that it worked for them, but a business plan is a better long term solution.

Both of Gladwells books were spectacular. One of the better books on those same lines is “The Art of Buzz”

If you liked Gladwells books you would probably like the Buzz book. My Buzz book is in my storage unit right now or I would add the author.

When I was starting out, I did the reverse. I created a brand for companies that had none, and put them in my portfolio. It was web design, and there are no shortage of bad websites. So, I found bad sites, and remade them into good sites. Using a “before & after” screenshots got me jobs at companies looking for web designers.

there was a kid fresh out of shcool who designed all these concpets for companies without ther approval. he put of these “fake” products on a website…they were really well done, but obviously one knew they weren’t real projects…just a guy having some fun and slapping on nike, apple, and phillips logos…and inventing new products.

The guy you’re referring to has a website.

Can’t remember his real name but some of the companies he did his designs for were going to sue him until they saw how popular his designs were. (people were calling the companies and asking for the products)
After that a lot of the companies hired him.

This is basically the same as Seth Godin’s more formal “Idea Virus” which has been discussed here before.

I think there are ways to leverage “free” but one should be careful in pursuing that avenue. There are plenty of people out there expecting free (as has also been discussed here).

What I would suggest is to think less about the “thing” you’re offering and more about your Reputation. When you focus on thinking of yourself as a Brand, you remove ties to the thing in which you have an immediate investment.

So for example, while you might have just spend a month working on something and don’t want to just open source it because it was a loooong month, consider it from the big picture pov. It won’t always benefit you to give something away. But sometimes it will. Being able to make a more objective assessment of when and when not to do this is key, imo.

Additionally, it helps to keep in mind that product designs more often than not fade into memory. Your Reputation can accumulate.

[Edit - almost forgot. I posted a related entry dealing with Reputation earlier today. You guys especially might find it interesting.]

what this band did is no different then young designers posting their portfolios on coroflot. they made a demo tape and posted it online. I made a portfolio and posted it online.