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Free Ride: How the Internet Is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back [Hardcover]

Robert Levine
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Aug 2011

'On the one hand information wants to be expensive because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.'

So said the influential technologist Stewart Brand at a 1984 hacker convention. Not only did his words evolve into a media business mantra that has shaped the internet as we know it today but the conflict which he predicted has led to a revolution in the way that our culture is disseminated and consumed.

Over the last decade the traditional media - newspapers, music, television, films and books - have been systematically ransacked by digital organisations. Every media business has had to contend with the growing consumer demand for free online content. As it is currently configured, both technically and legally, the Internet allows technology companies to reduce the price of content to zero by letting them build businesses with content copyrighted by others. It's a very effective way to draw an audience. MySpace attracted a user base larger than the population of most European countries, in part by letting its audience stream music, then sold itself to News Corporation for $580 million. But what are the consequences for cultural businesses? Is the result simply mayhem and inevitable cultural impoverishment?

Free Ride is the essential guide to a global marketplace in transition: where we are, how we got here and what we have to do to avoid cultural meltdown.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (4 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847921485
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921482
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 24.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 574,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"[A] meticulously researched book... Levine's solutions are's a vital discussion we need to be having" (Davin O'Dwyer Irish Times)

"Levine is an engaging, provocative writer, and there is much to like about Free entertaining read, with an entertaining cast" (Observer)

"Pugnacious and well-researched" (Steven Poole Guardian)

"Important" (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)

"Comprehensive" (Pat Kane Independent)

Book Description

An agenda-setting book about the global marketplace in transition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've often wondered why a better case hasn't been made for the cultural industries in their current plight. These days the coherent voices seem to come from those arguing in favour of the changes brought about by new tech. They come less from those who feel its adverse effects. Rob Levine's book "Free Ride: How The Internet Is Destroying The Culture Business" explores these adverse effects and suggests how the culture business can fight back.

It was a tough read. Levine knows his stuff and lays it out in exhaustive detail. Impressive though his analysis is, he is light on any radical ideas for how to fight back. Tighter regulation and better licensing of copyrights was about it. In other words: the way things were, but some more. That most of the responses I've read so far are unsupportive of the book's message is hardly surprising. They indicate which way the wind is blowing. Though I respect Levine for his vigorous research when you see his case articulated you understand why it is generally not expressed more often. Not only is it short on innovation, it is clearly the losing argument and who wants to be on the side of the movement that didn't prevail.

I think there are two crucial facts which pretty much kill off the case made in Free Ride.

The first is that, historically, copyright was only lucrative for a very small number of successful people who walked away with vast fortunes. The majority of us who were party to copyright deals made little if anything from them. Many were bruised from the experience. It should be remembered too that the greater number of artists - poets, musicians, novelists, songwriters, photographers et al - never even got near such a deal. They were effectively off the copyright radar.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Badly needed perspective 24 Aug 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It has become almost commonplace for people to think and say that copyright is irrelevant in the internet age. Much has been written about it, and high-profile advocates talk about copyright as a barrier, rather than am incentive, to creativity and innovation.

As someone who has always though that view is self-evidently nonsensical, the lack of a credibly researched and presented counterpoint has been depressing. Defenders of copyright are too often rounded on and attacked and some leave themselves open to ad hominem attacks because their opinions - however valid - are insufficiently backed by research.

Robert Levine has written an important book because it not only makes the obvious points - that without reward there is no incentive to invest in creativity, that the anti-copyright arguments are usually put by those who have a vested interest in copyright being undermined, that our culture is at threat if professional creativity is no longer a career or business option - but backs them up meticulously with comprehensive references, research and statistics.

As well as that it's engagingly written and enjoyable to read. This is no dry academic legal text but nor, in my view, is a mere polemic. Levine certainly has a point of view, but he fully explains and justifies his conclusions and, to me at least, they're mostly (but not wholly) hard to argue with.

Read this if you have an interest in the internet and culture, if you want to get away from the almost religious zeal with which the argument is too often infused, if you are concerned about the future of culture and the dominance of the internet by monopolistic organisations which take out infinitely more than they put back into the creative economy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
8 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The pleasure of denial 16 Aug 2011
By umlungu - Published on
There is really only one readership for this book. If, like the author, you were an executive in a music intermediary who made lots of money until technology changed the way that people experience music then this book is for you. It will reassure you that its not your fault. It is not your fault that although money spent on music, movies and books is increasing that many incumbent intermediaries aren't making as much as before, although still enough to keep paying executives a lot more than most artists receive. Its not your fault that despite spending millions on lobbying the laws that you bought weren't able to force people to conform to your business model. Its not your fault that despite endless campaigns vilifying your customer base, suing your own customers and making other businesses your janissaries some people still want the content that you distribute but quicker and more efficiently than you choose to distribute it.It is not your fault that refusing to acknowledge changes in technology means that others have built businesses that you said would never work.It is not your fault that many musicians and authors have new business models that don't need you.
No, it is not your fault, it is a vast conspiracy by every technology company (except I guess Sony) who could never have become rich by ingenuity, hard work and offering customers what they want. It is a conspiracy by politicians who despite passing every law you ever paid them to pass failed to make the Internet illegal.
Customers, politicians, technologists, new businesses, it is all their fault, blame everyone else.
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