The Open Source Model
The open-source model is ‘A decentralised development model that encourages open collaboration. A main principle of open-source software development is peer production, with products such as source code, blueprints, and documentation freely available to the public.’ It is the promotion of universal access in all aspects via an open-source or free license.
Generally speaking open source refers to computer programming in which the source code is available for use or modification by anyone. The open source code is meant to be collaborative, anyone and all together helping to improve and expand upon the original design and then share the changes within the community, others may then download, modify and publish their version back into the community and so on. There are of course issues with open-source material and allot of these issues are focused on capital and profit over the production and sharing, some economists argue that since consumers are not paying for their copy, that creators are unable to recoup their initial costs of production meaning that there is little economic incentive to create in the first place. This argument contains two main problems, the first being that consumers would lose out because of the goods they would otherwise purchase would not be available, the second issue being that if there is no real economic incentive to create, that the level and quality of production would not be as high as oppose to proprietary licensing in which the ‘copy’ is priced.
There have been a number of alternative models of licensing that sit outside of the standard proprietary licence model, some of these alternatives have seen good results from the consumer and generally received well within the public. Creation for its own sake, one example is Wikipedia, in fact some of the information in this writing comes directly from the sources available through Wikipedia. This model depends on collaboration, editors add content for recreation, artists have a drive to create and in the end both communities benefit from free starting material. Other models that stray away from proprietary licensing include, Voulntary after-the-fact donations such as shareware, street performers and public broadcasting. Crowd funding has also seen a rise with sites such as Kickstarter and Patron, although slightly different models the principle is the same, the consumers only support what they want to by donation an amount they see fit or subscribing to a continual payment scheme to support the continuing creation of such projects, for example news and journalism, podcasts and comedy shows all benefit from this approach, however, issues arise when the project is not fully funded or doesn’t reach the targeted amount as Kickstarter has seen countless failed projects.
Some models relay on an ethical or moral approach to give something away free because they feel that it should and would benefit from the contribution by others, however some have mutated into cash grabbing schemes that depend and pray on the habits of the consumers, using alternative models that relay on giving you just enough to buy more. I am of course talking about models such as Freemium, in which a give away, limited and restricted version is free but to gain access to the premium version you are charged a fee, this model has seen a shift from one off payments to monthly or yearly subscriptions such as Adobe creative suite and certain apps like VSCO’s pro premium version. Games and apps are also using in app purchases as newer basic models to retrieve revenue. Pokemon Go took almost less than a day before it was already making more money than all the other main apps in Apple and Google app stores, and in one week the game was earning fourteen million dollars. The consumer however, didn’t need to pay a single thing to access or play the game, the money came from in app purchases, and the side affect to these freemium apps is that it has almost wiped out any market for one time payment apps, why pay for something you can get for free.
These main stream models and alternatives to proprietary licenses are sold to us as though you are getting something for free, a better and more moral way of distributing content or software, and for the most part we fall for it. I want to argue that these freemium and other alternatives are in fact worse, they rely on behavioural psychology to trick you, setting up virtual currencies removing you from the real connection to money, these currencies often make no real sense and have little relation to real currency exchange, for example if you spend five pounds you can get 1300 gems but for one pound you get 10 gems and so you loose the connection between real currency spent on buying fake in game currencies. In some games the currency tiers go deeper, giving you two or three removals, for example you buy gems to pay for gold bars and those gold bars allow you to buy in game items, these in game currencies are designed to get you to spend and designed to ensure that you don’t understand the relation to real cash to in game ratio. These developers know that the it’s easy for you to spend money, your details are stored in the app stores already and the payment system is painless with little to no effort involved, unlike the game itself. The games are designed in what is not to distant from how drug pushers get people hooked on heroine, they give you an easy time when you first start playing to get you hooked, then as you progress and play more it gets harder and harder until you hit a painfully slow time wall, often, examples are a building will cost you sixty seconds to build in the first couple of hours playing, then after a few days the cost of more buildings is pushed to something extreme like twenty two hours of real time to build, at which point they offer you the in app purchase to build instantly for a set amount of in game currencies.
The percentage of players not paying for in game purchases far out weighs those that are, however it is that small percentage of players that account for hundreds and sometimes thousands of real money spent inside the apps. Within the game industry this small percentage of players are know as ‘Whales’, someone who spends a lot of money on micro-transactions, meaning that most players are not willing to spend large quantities of money within freemium apps and games, but rather (although heavily relying on ‘whales’) freemium apps want you to spend smaller amounts of money continually over periods of time. The argument for freemium games and apps is that it keeps developers updating and expanding the software, they collect huge amounts of data informing those updates, examining how players are using or not using the app, how much time you spend playing or using apps and ultimately keep updates coming so that you don’t get bored and keep using these apps. But this also means tat developers have the information readily available to change how you are offered in game purchases and in some cases tweaking the prices based on individual profiles and behaviour, if it looks like you’re about to quit and stop playing, here is a discount.
The issues with some of these alternative models of licensing mean that developers, publishers and companies are creating systems that mean we spend more money over longer periods of time. Quality may rise and in the case of Adobe’s editing apps in their Creative Cloud Suite the updates are regular and if you decide to pay for the full suite you get access to all of the programs and free updates for a monthly price, and these tools are useful for creatives, Adobe generally listen to their consumers and the updates for their products usually keep in mind consumer issues. Across the board however, freemium services and monthly subscriptions have become toxic, especially within entertainment genres such as gaming. Capital has become the primary goal, how much can a company make over longer periods of time from the consumer and how can companies create their apps or games to ensure that you want to spend your money, the list of mobile games that rely of this freemium model is now in the majority and we can see this happening across into console and PC gaming, EA games being the most famous for expensive downloadable content. The fact is, that people are then put into situations of class through entertainment, if you can not afford the downloadable content, then you are left behind to grind for hours just to reach the same point as someone who had a spare forty pounds, this ideology behind paywalls and micro-transactions or downloadable content is being seen in across different platforms, with the only purpose to produce a larger capital it fuels anger and divide among fans, and the morality of licensing and distribution is called into question.
The pay to play model isn’t confined to gaming, certain publications have pay walls or require you to be a subscriber to the magazine to view certain articles, software companies are using monthly payment schemes topped with the option to pay a one off price for extra access to newer features, and the only other mainstream alternatives are free to use programs or softwares where the price of using them is the selling of your personal data – ironically sold back to you in the form of advertisements. The question is at what point a moral understanding is reached between creator and consumer, publications with paywalls to view certain features are only viable if the revenue is used to pay it’s creators, but unfortunately in many cases the payment of photographers and artists is shadowed by the over used statement “that it will be great exposure for you”, a currency that is still valuable but unsustainable. Certain publications are free online, usually supported with advertisements or sponsored by companies and in some cases the very feature you are reading is ‘sponsored content’, I do not object to this idea, but at what point is the content truthful when the company in question is paying you to feature them, some publications have strict rules for the type of content they allow as sponsored content, meaning that they only feature from companies or establishments they trust or support themselves, a somewhat moral aspect to advertising.
There is a real difference between free content and open source materials, most publications now produce features on artists and creatives who they like, although filtered through aesthetic and style towards their own publication they usually allow the content to be viewable online for free. Payment and support for the featured is usually done on the premise of exposure, this can be beneficial, but my main issue with idea isn’t that, as a creative, you are not getting paid for an interview or feature, it can in many cases be a privilege and statement to your work, but rather what are you getting out of it from them. These publications are making money off your work and selling you to their consumers in the hopes that they like what they see and will possibly buy the printed publication or any number of products sold. But should publications have a duty to be providing more for their readers and in fact those they feature. One publication that attempts this is the established art magazine ‘It’s Nice That’, they feature photographers, artists, designers, illustrators and more, with their online content being free for all. What sets them apart as an independent art magazine is the effort put into creating more useful information, their features often talk about collectives and have special dedicated awards in which they help out new graduates and host symposium events that are usually all uploaded free to view via YouTube and even have a Jobs board for creatives to potentially get a start in their careers. There is a feeling with many independent magazines and publications of communal distribution and collective help. The publications want to show and celebrate your work and you want the exposure so you’re happy to send the work and write a few words to tell your story, having personally been in the situation of having work featured it dose allow exposure for a period of time, you are utilising the viewers of the publication to better share your own work. The real issue is that independent magazines and especially those starting out rarely have the money to support artists by paying for features and interviews and so many attempt to support in different ways.
I want to argue that one way publications can support creatives is through the use of open-source material, ignoring the other forms of licensing such as micro-transactions or subscription based rewards and instead allow for communal support through open source material, keeping information and inspiration free for public consumption and to be providing. Many independent magazines want to support artists and creatives anyway, and through features and celebration of work there is room to expand and develop tools, if it was not for creatives being willing to give their work free for features many of these publications would not exist, it’s a symbiotic relationship between artists and publication, but unfortunately and often, only one side is making the money.