Musing about artificial scarcities and abundances

Artificial abundances.

I’d spent quite some time thinking about artificial scarcities, but never really considered the possibility of abundances being artificial as well.

That’s the problem with being on holiday, your mind goes off in all kinds of tangents. This post is actually the result of my reading the following article in today’s FT: US steps up piracy battle. [Intriguingly, when I went to look for the article via Google, I found a number of articles with the identical headline, all in the past three weeks or so].

The more I think about it, the more I realise it’s time we had a First Law of Scarcity and Abundance:

If you create an artificial scarcity, then be prepared for someone else to create an artificial abundance

A hundred years ago, it might have been reasonable for someone in Hollywood to plot the release of a film in time-slices across geographical areas. Even fifty years ago it might have been reasonable. I’m no expert; but if I were to guess at the reasons why a Hollywood studio would want to release the same film at different times in different locations, I’d come up with economic ones. Like producing a finite number of copies of the original master, and then releasing them one market at a time, reusing the same copies.

The trouble is, somebody went and built a whole distribution model on the past practice, and now it’s being imposed on a digital environment where it’s completely unnecessary.

Digital “content” has zero transmission and reproduction cost. Any attempt to control the release of digital content, across geographical areas, at different times, is tantamount to creating artificial scarcity. And when this happens, people will find ways of getting around the artificial scarcity, creating an artificial abundance.

That’s why people unlock locked phones.

That’s why Region Coding on DVDs was such an appalling idea.

If Hollywood is now only considering reducing the time-lapse between geographical releases, it is missing the point. Zero time lapse leads to zero piracy.

Something to think about


5 thoughts on “Musing about artificial scarcities and abundances”

  1. This reminds me of the opening epigram from a 1961 story by Cordwainer Smith called “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons”

    Poor communications deter theft;
    good communications promote theft;
    perfect communications stop theft.
    —Van Braam

    it’s actually available on-line here:
    more background here

    hat tip to

  2. Hey Sean, thanks for the link. Great story. Just the sort of sideways movement the blogosphere is famous for.

  3. Restoring (or rather re-writing) something like the comment I left before your blog disaster…

    Not sure zero time lapse kills all drivers for piracy. Given the market in cheap (and often poor quality) pirate copies of movies even after their release in cinema and on DVD in a given region, I’d say there is a group of consumers who are more sensitive to price than other factors.

    Surely the big question for the studios is, if somehow all piracy was stopped, whether any of these people would convert to full-price consumers?

    My guess is many would not, so maybe there is scope for greater revenues from lower prices?

Let me know what you think