With penetrating analysis and insight, Levine, a former executive editor of Billboard magazine, dissects the current economic climate of the struggling American media companies caught in the powerful fiscal grip of the digital industry. The author argues that newspaper, music, and film industries presently record weak revenues and ad support, while customers turn to the music and information of the Internet's iTunes, Rhapsody, Netflix, Google, and others, assisted by strong government aid in funding and legislation. Levine aptly points out a critical conflict: "Most online companies that have built businesses based on giving away information and entertainment aren't funding the content they're distributing." He is most convincing in his belief that the declining quality of information in the print business results from decreasing investment, adding that the consumer is the victim of the emphasis on profits and greed. One intriguing section of the book is the excellent comparison of the domestic market and the European digital industry, with robust regulations and willingness to protect copyrights and privacy. Maybe Levine has not gone far enough in spelling out how the media can get its mojo back, but this incisive book is a start at an informed dialogue. (Oct.)
Don't have a subscription to HBO or Netflix but want to see an episode of True Blood? Just download it. What's the harm, right? Levine (former executive editor, Billboard) details how—beyond issues of morality—the illegal distribution of cultural products like television shows and music seriously impacts the economic and cultural underpinnings of society. His focus, though, is not on the average consumer who downloads the latest U2 song but on websites that illegally share or sell these copyrighted works. Similar to Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture, Levine's extensively researched work illustrates how digital piracy undermines artistic creativity and the economy. Furthermore, he offers solid ideas on how artists and businesses can work together to provide timely and inexpensive ways for consumers to obtain the product they want when they want it. VERDICT For anyone interested in trends in Internet usage, copyright law, and mass media and society. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL
An argument for (finally) monetizing the cultural offerings of the Internet and making them unprofitable for pirates and other parasites.
Former Billboard executive editor Levine knows thathe's arguing against big money, particularly from Google, which, he says, has a profitable interest in an unrestricted flow of consumers searching for free journalism, free music, free books and free movies and TV shows. Unfortunately for more traditional culture businesses, the free Internet has been a disaster. Consider the devastation Napster and the MP3 wrought on the recording industry, supplanting a model in which consumers bought whole albums of songs for upwards of $20 just to own a handful they really liked. While this may have been inefficient for the buyer, Levine argues, it enabled labels to support artists they believed in. He claims the single-centric iTunes model is hardly better than the free version: The low price of songs, designed to entice people into buying the expensive equipment to play them on, leaves less for the artists and studios that produce them. A similar dynamic had been at work in the publishing industry, writes the author, where Amazon's Kindle threatened to collapse the royalty structure in hard-copy publishing until publishers and Amazon's competitors forced it, after an ugly public battle, to adopt higher "agency model" prices on most e-books. Levine's argument will be most welcome among the captains of the culture industry. While general readers may learn something from his erudition, most will probably be rubbed the wrong way by his focus on blockbuster culture and championing of record-company owners, TV executives and newspaper magnates who have insisted on maintaining a profit model. Nevertheless, the final chapters offer an intelligent analysis of steps that can be taken to fight piracy and support the culture industry, including the artists and writers who create for the content, without soaking the consumer.
A valiant effort to raise public consciousness on an unheralded issue.
Praise for Free Ride
“A book that should change the debate about the future of culture….With this stylishly written and well-reported manifesto, Levine has become a leading voice on one side of our most hotly contested debate involving law and technology.”
—Jeffrey Rosen, The New York Times Book Review
"Turbo-reported....Free Ride is a timely and impressive bookpart guilt trip, part wake-up call, and full of the kind of reporting that could only have been done with a book advance from an Old Media company."
"[A] smart, caustic tour of the modern culture industry."
“Brilliant…A crash course in the existential problems facing the [media].”
—Richard Morrison, The Times
“The most convincing defense of the current predicament of the creative industries that I have read.”
—James Crabtree, Financial Times
“With penetrating analysis and insight, Levine, a former executive editor of Billboard magazine, dissects the current economic climate of the struggling American media companies caught in the powerful fiscal grip of the digital industry…. This incisive book is a start at an informed dialogue.”
“Can the culture business survive the digital age? That’s the burning question Robert Levine poses in his provocative new book. And his answer is one that will get your blood boiling. Rich with revealing stories and telling tales, Free Ride makes a lucid case that information is actually expensive – and that it’s only the big technology firms profiting most from the work of others that demand information be free.”
—Gary Rivlin, author of Broke, USA
“One of the great issues of the digital age is how people who create content will be able to make a living. Robert Levine’s timely and well-researched book provides a valuable look at how copyright protection was lost on the internet and offers suggestions about how it could be restored.”
—Walter Isaacson, President/CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin
“This book thoroughly documents a wide-spread outbreak of cyber amnesia. Despite libertarian delusions, industries often get Free Rides, especially in their early days, but they eventually give back. Taxpayers build roads, then get hired to build cars. The Internet gives back a lot in exchange for its Free Ride, but one thing it defiantly isn’t giving back is a way for enough people to make a living. No matter how amusing or addictive the Internet becomes, its foundation will crumble unless it starts returning the favors it was given and still depends on.”
—Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget
“Free Ride is a brilliantly written book that exposes the dark side of the Internet. A must read for anyone interested in the horrific undermining of our intellectual culture.”
—Edward Jay Epstein, author of The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood
“Robert Levine deftly dissects the self-serving Orwellian freedom-speak being served up by Silicon Valley’s digital new lords as they amass fortunes devaluing the work of artists, journalists and other old-fashioned ‘content creators.’ Free Ride begs us to remove our blinders and take a hard look down a cultural dead-end road.”
—Fred Goodman, author of Fortune’s Fool: Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis
“Without being a Luddite, Levine makes the phony digital media gurus of our day seem as simple-minded as their slogans.”
—Ron Rosenbaum, author of How the End Begins and Explaining Hitler