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Street Performer Protocol 77

maphew writes "Copyright is dead and unenforceable. The Street Performer Protocol is a method (still in the design phase) for getting money to the authors (programs, books, music, whatever) who make their work free. Most Slashdotters will want to skip down to the mechanics section as the first half is rationalization for why something like SPP is necessary, and we all know that already, right? "
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Street Performer Protocol

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Holding future works ransom to induce payment might work for some, but not many. Advertising is the way to go, just like radio and TV. Imagine if recording artists could embed a watermark identifier into their recordings that then instructed WinAMP or Sonique (for example) to render an advertisement/ sponsorship within the player. I bet Coca-Cola would pay a bundle for that right.
  • by Gleef ( 86 )
    I'm curious to see this system in action. I see many problems with the system, but none of them are fatal flaws. The biggest for me is that the SPP avoids the whole issue of licensing by saying that the programmer is producing for the Public Domain. I'm not sure I'm all that interested in writing anything major for the public domain, since the GPL allows just as much use of the software, but also encourages other people to produce Free software. Of course, if enough developers like the PD idea, than the system could start to work.

    Secondly, how would quality assurance be handled? The author implies that issues like that would be worked out by market pressures, but I think it's too grey an area to affect the market drastically. If you have one programmer (let's call him "Steve") who makes high quality work, but is slow to produce it and asks for a lot of money; and another programmer (let's call him "Bill") who makes very poor quality programs, but makes them quickly and doesn't ask much for them (but he's more prolific, so he gets a little bit much more often), the system is likely to encourage Bill more than Steve, while I'd prefer a system which works the other way around. Again, a concern, not a fatal flaw.

    My third concern is that the SPP all but demands a Cathedral development style. The project is kept under wraps, worked on by an individual or small team, unless and until the donations reach their critical mass. While many good projects have used a Cathedral style, there is a lot to be said for the Bazaar style, and most of the SPP's likely developers seem to prefer Bazaar projects.

    Another object, I'll use an example project for this one. Let's say someone offered to write a speech recognition library by December 31, 2001 if $100,000 in donations are gathered. Let's say everyone acts in good faith. The first scenario, the author estimates that the actual work will take 18 months, but at June 30, 2000 only $40,000 has been collected, how can the developer figure out whether it's worthwhile to start the project, maybe enough will be collected, maybe not.

    The second scenario, everyone acts in good faith, lots of donations are collected, the devloper is a busy beaver; but something unexpected happens and the schedule slips by a month. According to the proposal, when the deadline is reached with no product, the "Publisher" refunds everyone's money. However, the programmer has just spent two years of his life expecting the big payoff to make it worthwhile, and is looking at a mostly finished project, a pile of bills and no cash. The donors have don't have the project they wanted, the Publisher not only loses his cut, but has to spend time and money refunding the donors. Everyone acted in good faith, and for want of a single month, nobody's happy.

    A third scenario, still with the Speech Recognition project. It gets off to a good start, lots of donations come in quickly, the developer starts work. Three months later, IBM GPL's Via Voice. The developer is suddenly forced into choosing between going through the cost of bowing down from the project and refunding everyone, or doing a cleanroom version, and reinvent the wheel rather than going to the Wheel-O-Rama and playing with (and improving on) the great wheels they offer there. Again, everyone acted in good faith, but nobody's happy.
  • Advertising has become so conspicuous and advertisers so desperate to pack one additional message into our brains...

    Amen to that. There's one radio station in Cincinnati that has actually started overlapping ads - the last two or three seconds of one overlap onto the beginning of the next. They do that enough and they can free up another 15 second slot. bleah.

  • who will pay?: Who pays for content now? Enthusiasts and those who need specific and/or reliable content (i.e. trade journals). Both of these groups will continue to pay for content, in what form that payment takes. (Via the Protocol or via royalties on container sales.) If these two groups can't support the authors -- who live in a scarcity economy -- than market forces ensure that the freeloaders will pay up. Hm, only two new books in the store since the last month. Time to go pay [my favorite author] some more.

    Um...could you clarify this a bit? It seems to be saying that even though your favorite author hasn't produced anything this month, you're still going to pay him as if you were buying a book.
  • I'm not sure I'm all that interested in writing anything major for the public domain, since the GPL allows just as much use of the software, but also encourages other people to produce Free software.

    This isn't meant as flamebait, but I've got a couple of problems with this (although they're closely intertwined):
    1. The GPL doesn't allow just as much use of code as true Public domain code. That's because the GPL restricts how any code covered by it is used.
    2. "Encourages other people to produce Free software" puts it lightly. Obligates law-abiding users of GPL'd code is more like it. Public domain code has no restriction on how it's used in a software project. GPL'd code does.
    Anyways, those are minor semantic issues.

    I think your post gets at the heart of any economic system in that there's always going to be problems that aren't easy to resolve. How would something like the Linux kernel or the GIMP be handled under such a system? There you have a open development system where many people contribute differing amounts. Figure that out and you can better handle "bazaar"-style development projects under this system.

    As to your scenarios:
    • Scenario 1: Some would say that the author should undertake the project anyways, for the academic gains achieved. But in reality, if he undertakes the project anyways, he may lose money, in addition to valuable time he could've spend working on other interesting projects.
    • Scenario 2: That's a problem of an inflexible contract. There should be elements of the contract to account for overruns in development time, in addition to incentives for faster development.
    • Scenario 3: Good luck solving that one. Perhaps partial refunds if the developer and contractor agree it's not worth pursuing. But you won't find an easy solution that makes everyone happy.
    Economic systems are not simple. There's many complex situations that can arise that need to be thought out. And there needs to be a way to retrofit the system with additional tweaks to handle situations that weren't envisioned originally.
  • This is not a way of buying a novel, piece of music, &c., but a way of sponsoring a favourite artist. Centuries ago, artists had aristocratic patrons who would underwrite their living expenses so that they may produce art. Why not a similar, only more distributed, system, in which large numbers of fans each contribute a small amount to sponsoring an artist?

    I don't know about you, but I'd be happy to sponsor my favourite musicians/authors/artists, regardless of whether others would get a free ride. It's not about an exchange of goods, it's about a relationship.
  • As opposed to the current situation, where most of the markets for music, literature and film belong to a handful of megacorporations more concerned with exploiting tried-and-tested formulae than with innovating.
  • Check out Adbusters [] for more information on the infiltration of advertising into our daily lives...
  • It's not taking into account the incremental nature of software development. Think continuing funding rather than paying for a fait accompli.

    I'm more sanguine about the future of copyright, so why not apply a scheme like this to GPL software rather than public domain?

    It needs a 501(c)3 non-profit operating it to be tax-effective.



  • First, it's important to realize that the Protocol depends on the assumption that copyright law is already broken, and only becomes valid when that point is reaced.

    What if the world doesn't cooperate? And even if it does, then I guess this scheme would then be vulnerable to copyright barbarians at the gates.

    I think you're making a mistake by requiring a significant change in the way people do business as a prerequisite. As a consequence, fine, but not as a prerequisite.

    There's lots of good stuff in your thesis that doesn't depend on copyright breaking so badly. Don't get hung up on that.



  • Most people work for a steady wage and are more or less happy that way. Most would exchange a gamble for security. The ones who take risks are in the minority.


  • Wall's main contribution to his employer has been a copyrighted work - the Perl manual. Cox's contribution to Red Hat is less direct, but still it's working software that they sell. In contrast, the Medicis used patronage as a P.R. tool - those nice artworks and talented people hanging around the office helped them lead by impressing the little folks.



  • The world is full of starving artists, yes. The point I was trying to make was that given the chance lots of people would work for a steady wage. In other words, you would not have any trouble finding people who would be willing to create even if there is a cap on their potential earnings, as long as they get a reasonable steady wage.



  • Great Expectations was written in installments. As was War and Peace. The concept of serial publishing is super old rather than new.
  • I think this stuff is well worth thinking about.

    For a while, I've considered the idea of "buskware" or "tokenware". Freely-available software (or other IP), and anyone who wants to can donate a quarter ($0.25) by clicking a button somewhere. I'd bet you'd get more income than most shareware, which requires a larger commitment, i.e. a few dollars. I think most people would donate a quarter for a really useful program or Web page.

    To do this, we'd need widespread digital cash, integrated into all major browsers, able to handle small transactions. A few years off.

    I have an educational Web site with thousands of daily visitors, ad-free by choice. Judging from email, many are very grateful. If even a tenth of them gave me a quarter, running the Web site would be quite a bit easier. It could still keep its primary goal of being accessible to all, and unpolluted by ads.

  • Hmmm, my interpretation was far different. I get the feeling that you did not read the whole document.

    For example, the idea of "certificates" was discussed. Each "donator" gets one, and if a specified deadline is not met, the money is refunded.

    Also, there was a proposed banker who was 3rd party to all of this (and seemed to be a modern bank [no analogy there]) who was wealthy and acted as a place to store the funds and an easy way of getting them back.

    I have to agree with putting a lot of faith in the producer. Then again, what do we do now? Considering that this is still a capitalist style of selling because if nobody invests then nobody makes any money and prices must be re-considered.

    Also, this whole proposal is a just that-a proposal. The analogy of books was just used to make this simpler to understand; we must scale. That meaning that if you only have one song to release, then release the course. If you only have one book, release the first few chapters. This part of the proposal has been going on for years; just about all of Charles Dicken's Novels were published serially.

    No offence, but I would have to say that most of you arguments are invalid as they are very shallow. This seems to be the first release to the public of this document and, if it does become adopted, will go through many more changes.

    I believe that this could be a very excellent way of trashing our current system of publishing, especially as things like mp3 players and electronic books become more common place.

  • Damn, I hate to correct myself, but I just got back from playing ultimate and I am pretty damn tired.

    For instance, that should be chorus, not course. And also there are many sentence fragements and nasty spelling mistakes.

    Sorry, please do not discredit my reply.
  • This system is actually WORST for the "street artist" because nobody is going to pony up their money in advance for an unknown quantity.

    Firstly, because they don't know if you the artist are any good, or if you'll produce the kind of thing they like.

    Secondly, because if you've never completed a novel (CD, play, etc.), there is NO WAY ON EARTH anyone with an ounce of sense is going to pay you up front for one. It's HARD to finish writing a book, and a lot of people who think that it might be a fun thing to do get about three chapters in and give up after it stops being fun. Publishing houses want a finished piece for a reason: there's no reason to believe you CAN deliver until you HAVE delivered.

    Lastly, the big problem is that by releasing the work into the public domain, the artist is giving up all control over it, and all possibility of future income off of it.

    If Paul McCartney had gotten $10,000 for "Let It Be" way back in the day, but released all copyrights, he'd be really pissed right now.

    Also, do you really want Coca-Cola to be able to use your song or image in their ad campaigns for free without your consent or compensation?

  • It's called Shareware. Anyone here like that model?
  • Who's really going to pay for yet another episode of (insert stupid sitcom here) anyways...
    Maybe this method would bring some intelligence to content.
    Of course, it's rather merit-based.. which tends not to work well with the free market.

    I would see a tremendous drop in the amount of money authors and publishers make... because outside of the computer industry, a lot of people are really struggling to make ends meet... and are more motivated to buy something when they know that their friend isn't just going to get it for free.

    I think this model would tend to make a few fanatical people bear the burden of cost of development, while the uncaring or penny-pinching majority would pickup everything for free.

    This may not be a bad thing.. but we really have to think here, is this something that people in the free market would prefer? Are they really going to increase revenues by this method? I kind of doubt it. And unless we're going to strip copyright laws as they are now, they're not going to voluntarily change to a model in which they make less money.

    I hope someone tries this and shows that it either succeeds or not. It doesn't matter that I would prefer it to work, if it just doesn't produce the profit margins current authors and publishers expect.

    Of course, this raises the specter that there *is* plenty of good free content out there already.. ( it's just sometimes hard to find..
  • by trims ( 10010 ) on Thursday July 08, 1999 @05:54PM (#1812092) Homepage

    ..there are alot of problems. Here are some that I can think of:

    • How do I know what to ask for? Currently, the price of an item is primarily determined by demand and production, typical capitalistic methods. The marketplace does an exceedingly good job of maximizing the gain for everyone (granted, software costs are NOT one of these situations). How am I, as an individual, supposed to figure out what a reasonable cost is? If I guess too low, I miss out on (possibly) large sums that I should have made (unfair to me), and if I guess too high, people will not get to see my work (unfair to them) since I won't publish. Price setting is extremely difficult, and perhaps the biggest flaw in the system.
    • What happens to the money that people contribute if the "goal" isn't made? I assume that it's refunded; however, think of the logistics and costs associated with this. Think of all the problems that happen every time some group cancels a concert. Multiply this thousandfold. Remember, the "Publisher" entrusted with the finished work is also probably the collector of the money. The "Publisher" will almost certainly pass the cost of insurance against such a cancellation to the author, so you might end up cutting out small authors, since the cost of the "Publisher" may be a large chunk of the possible revenue.
    • How is the product evaluated? Does the Publisher vouch for the safe operation/quality of the product? Demoware? Reviews?
    • What about support? OK, for books and music, this might be a lesser issue, but what about software? Is it just like GNU stuff nowdays? Or is there some arrangement? And what about liability? Who is responsible if it doesn't work as advertized?

    Perhaps the biggest flaw I can see (particularly in the author/music industry) is that no one has any idea of what something is worth. Also, the protocol heavily discriminates against first-time authors, since it depends on reputation as a methods for setting expectations of return. What if I don't want to write 6 books, but have 1 awesome novel?

    Overall, it's an interesting idea, but one that has far too many practical flaws for us to ever see it in reality.


  • Merely speculation here, but try this on for size:

    The author (or publisher representative) releases an amount of the novel exactly proportionate to however much of the novel has been paid for (this is presuming that the entire thing has already been written). So when you put in your $3 donation, you get the direct result that one more sentence is published. Immediate gratification in a way never before provided!

    Likewise, although perhaps not as effective, you could release songs a second at a time, as they are paid for...

    Anyone think this would work? I think the combination of seeing the direct effects of your contribution and immediate gratification might just be irresistable. And that's just one possible outcome of this protocol...

  • I like the suggestion of a 'click here to donate' button, and this is perhaps more like 'street performers' work. In my town it doesn't seem very lucrative (simple begging often seems to get better money) but the vastly larger audience available online might make all the difference.

    Another point I rarely see mentioned is the value of physical objects. Perhaps I'm being retro here, but much of what I'm willing to pay money for is the physical medium the content comes on. The CD with liner notes, the nicely bound volume. I don't want everything that way, and I agree that selling content doesn't work very well. However, producing and distributing media costs money and it makes sense to me to pay for them. This is a lot like the model behind commercial linux distributions, but I rarely hear it applied to artistic works.

    This means no intellectual property, you can release the content freely, but feed back a little bit of the purchase price for distributed media to the artist . copyleft [] runs sort of like this. Publish on demand could help with this (and to some extent solve the problem of how to serialize a novel) by letting the publisher collect orders in batches and then fire off a run. This should scale well with the popularity of the work. CDs are a case where the technology is better developed: lots up to 100 or so can be done with with CD burners, 500-10000 with short run pressings.

    There is the worry that another publisher will take the released content and undersell without supporting the author. This is quite likely to happen, but there are couteracting forces: If we've decided that a material object is what we're charging money for we can compete on the basis of quality, design and packaging. Even if the content is freely distributable, the cover doesn't have to be. People can buy the 'official' version because it's recommended by the author, because it donates to a cause they believe in, because it has better cover art/liner notes. Some will go with the cheaper edition, but who's to say that's bad. Is it really worse than the current system of giving most of the profit to the retailer and the publisher (as distinct from the author)?

    I've seen this sort of thing tried by a few people, mostly selling CD-ROMs like [] or cdrom.comcheapbytes [].
  • Typo, the last paragraph of my post got mangled. It should say:

    I've seen this sort of thing tried by a few people, mostly selling CD-ROMs like [] or [], I've never actually bought one though, so perhaps this model doesn't work so well. For me, the issue is often price. I'm usually not willing to pay US$25 for what's on the CD, even with the donation. OTOH, I often check the 'give $5 to debian' box
    when ordering from cheapbytes [].
  • Advertising has become so conspicuous and advertisers so desperate to pack one additional message into our brains that I'm convinced there will eventually be a popular backlash against it. Notice the negativity associated with spam, telemarketing, and comments related to Phoenix's plans to embed advertising into their BIOS [].

    You suppose to mix art with advertising? That is disgusting.

  • I would expect some pretty heavy competition against such a scheme by the likes of Sony, MS, etc.. Expect lots of FUD to get thrown around if this method becomes popular.

    This proposal is a really neat idea though. The PEOPLE need to hear about this kinda stuff - tell your friends, family etc...!

    my 2c.
  • A company setups up a web mail site (like Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.). The company then integrates a central download area (like into their mail interface so the mail user can browse through it. The company also allows the user to setup an account (credit card number, or billing method) w/ the company. Let the user download what they want to and send them a follow-up e-mail. If the user liked the download & wants to send the artist (musician, programmer, etc.) a donation, they may do so w/i the message. Setup a donation rating system. Have three categories: poor e.g. => liked it, really liked it, great & each one will have an amount attached to it ($.25, $.50, $1). Have a special donation category at the top that will allow the user to enter an amount greater than the minimum ($.25). The user may also decline to donate & perhaps post a few reasons: to cheap or didn't like it. The website can make money through advertising & through taking a TINY share of artist profits ($.05 or less). Make the user aware of what share the website is taking. Also, don't allow the followups to be deleted from the mailbox. Make it so the user has to go in and either donate or not and then have the message removed. Or allow it to be deleted but unless it was answered, it will return again. That delete stuff sounds pretty annoying probably but atleast get people to take 2 seconds to delete the thing-they need to atleast think about donating. Another less annoying way to do follow ups would be to send the user a list of what they downloaded (per 5 or ten downloads) & let them rate it. I don't believe it would be as effective. Let me know what you think. I agree that people will donate small amounts & this account for popularity as well. I don't see it wiping out cds though. Do you really want to use your computer to do everything? I guess I might consider it as long as we get something better than Win95/WinNT. Statements like "my tv just crashed, we will have to watch the game at Bill's house" or picture a romantic evening & all of sudden, the soft music stops & your guest decides to leave early...These are not good things. CDs are in our culture and they will be around for several more generations atleast. Well that is my $.02. Later...
  • Allright...this is not specific to this story, but rather a question about Linux and Free Software in general.

    I've been reading Linux and Open Source stuff on and off and I try to keep informed, but there's one thing that doesn't make much sense to me. I hope someone can explain this reasonably.

    How does a software develpment company make any money if theoritcally, software should be free?

    Support..that doesn't make sense, since you try to make software good enough for it to require less and less support. If someone uses your software and knows everything about it and needs no support than how is that useful to you (other than word of mouth advertising perhaps)?

    Say more and more pople start making free software. What happens to companies that just make software? Sure, competition "should" make a product better, but you simply can't compete with FREE.

    The dilema is...ok, you make software and it's good and you ask for money..but people will much rather prefer to "other" software that's free. How do you make money making software? All the people working for software companies now would lose their jobs and will have to learn to be an assembly line worker? To suggest that making software "shouldn't" be a profitable business in the marketplace is ridiculous...someone's efforts and brainpower _should_ allow him/her to live (get paid).

    So then..Linux is good and free, but doesn't widespread use of this model mean the complete wipe out of "the software programmer" as a job. Doesn't that seem very, very, very bizzare and scarry. I'm sure lots of you are software progammers now..what happens if you stop getting paid for making software?

    I hope some insight will make this clear for me.

    Thank You and Good Day.
  • The payment system. This seems like the largest stubling block to me in the scheme, perhaps I am just not up on the latest electronic cash concepts. I would really like to see, for this idea and others, what amounts to digital anonymous cash. I am sure so would a lot of others.

    Affirmed. I remember an article a couple of years ago in Scientific American (?) which covered a double blind digital signature developed in Sweden(?). In the double blind system the merchant is assured that the client really does have the cash, but that is all they learn (no name, address, etc). Marketeers can still build their demographic spending charts, but they don't know who is or isn't a member of any particular group. The researchers had a design for an IC which could be embedded in a credit card to make transactions quick, painless and secure.

    I've no idea what happened with this idea. I haven't heard of it since, but I haven't really been looking either.
    --- Update ---
    Whaddya know. Last time I checked, Google didn't return a thing, now there's slew of hefty reading material [].

  • Foolishness means acting out of ignorance. Ignorance is lack of understanding. If I don't understand, and am thus ignorant and foolish, obviously I need to learn. Are you offering to teach me?

    If you want to call me fool, I'll be happy to listen to why you think so. Okay, that's a lie. I might not be happy, but I'll listen nonetheless. I might learn something.

  • I personally think that if it was hashed out intelligently, the SPP could be a great success. Reading some of the replies here, I noticed that many of you are missing some of the main points that the author makes.

    1) Let's say Tom Clancy is going to come out with his next novel. The price set for the novel is, say 2 million dollars. Now at first glance, you would think, nobody is going to put any money into that at all, because they figure "my contribution is nothing compared to that!" But then a few weeks go by, and nobody has put up any significant money, lets say that a total of $3,000 had come in. Now here is where one of the big ideas come in. Wealthy speculators start to say, "Hmm...this is never going to make it. The publisher is offering a 15% interest if the book doesn't get published, I could use that kind of money", and they start throwing thousands of dollars at it, saying "What's my 10k to 2 million?". But enough of them do this and now the book is near publication...maybe the public donates the money. Maybe the publisher undertakes the cost to SAVE the money he would have to pay back on interest. But whatever the case, when all is said and done, the public gets their Tom Clancy novel, and Mr Clancy builds that 30 car garage he's been wanting. I think the concept of speculation really makes this an interesting idea, since people LOVE speculating (look at the day trading phenomenon that is sweeping idiots everywhere), and no matter what, you will get SOMETHING out of it.

    2) This does NOT have to be something done simply for a work-in-progress. Sure, the possibility exists for the money to be collected while the writer writes the novel (always with the novel analogy, I know...) but the author could just as easily have the book finished, and cleaned up by the publisher before the offering hits the market. This would allow for several savings. Nowadays, publishers reject tons of manuscripts, because they don't think that the public will like them enough to justify the significant cost of printing millions of novels for worldwide distribution, or even nationwide for that matter. With the SPP, many more novels could be offered, with a chapter or two, or maybe even a treatment of the whole novel available for the public to decide whether it was worthy of a few bucks, instead of a publisher. This serves everyone:

    a)Authors who might never get published otherwise get the chance to find out that that epic novel rejected by Pendant Publishing is actually a bestseller, but the editor who read it was in a bad mood on that contrary to many of the recent posts, this could HELP unknowns more than it could hurt them. And the same would go for musicians. They could release a single for public review at any time. That way, bands on small labels, or small bands on big labels that don't promote them would have the ability to reach the public at large.

    b)Publishers would never actually release novels that would flop, because the public wouldn't demand them. From a profit perspective, the publishers couldn't MAKE a bad decision.

    c)Readers would get the ability to read tons of ideas that would previously never have been available to them, and have the ability to decide what would survive and what wouldn't.

    d)Investors could speculate on the success of a novel. Risky though it would be for investors, if the interest was high enough, it would at any rate be a lot safer than a roulette wheel. Maybe I should call them gamblers instead of investors...

    At any rate, this is starting to get long, and I think I have gotten my point across. This could be a tremendous idea, properly implemented...
  • The vast majority of professional fiction writers don't make enough money off of their sales to support themselves, and if they can't maintain sales above a certain threshold, they can't get published at all. Writers with a small but reliable following might get more income through the SPP than they would through traditional print distribution channels (where the bookstore, distributor, publisher, and paper mill all take their pieces of the action). The superstars (like Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and L.Ron Hubbard :-) might make more from print sales than from the SPP--if so, they could simply continue to use print and ignore the SPP.

    (Can anyone comment on the income distribution for non-fiction writers, musicians, painters, filmmakers ... ?)

  • The value of a book, movie, or cd does not lie entirely in its content. Also of value is the authority that lies behind it. The three books on my shelf that have "Knuth" written on the backs in big, bold, letters have lots of words in them, but are only useful to me because I believe that Knuth has done a tremendous amount of work for me, including only the best and most important of the available ideas, making sure that what he write's is accurate.

    In the same way, a publisher publishing a book or a movie backs it with its own reputation, guaranteeing some sort of minimum quality standard. For every book that gets published, there's a ten-foot stack of rejected manuscripts that never well be, and don't deserve to be. While some people complain that this system promotes mediocrity and insulates us from the artist's themselves, I simply don't have the time or the stamina to read every manuscript in that stack, or listen to the album of every garage band out there. I'm content to let a professional do it for me.

    If the only available system were something like the one proposed here, I would probably never bother to try anything new again, except on the occasional tip from a friend. The chance of success would be so small, who would have the time to bother?

    Arguably, a new author or musician could just release his first few works for free, and hope to get noticed. This has obvious flaws, not the least that it eliminates the chance of any more of the lovely success stories that run like: "We maxed out six credits cards to make our movie, 'cause we knew it was great, and now it's made 1.5 million dollars!"

    Systems like this are already essentially in place on a local level, where, say, a small band will press a cd if it can get enough pre-orders; I don't think they scale up past it.
  • First of all, Copyright -- as in the idea (and laws that say) you have some control over the destiny over your creative works -- is not dead. Enforceability might be dying, or at least weakened. Control at all times of fixed form of the creative work and how that form is distributed is somewhat problematic, and becoming more so. Since profits are generally made by distributing and charging for various fixed forms, a business model is the challenge. But the basic idea of copyright still has merit (as is frequently pointed out, it makes the GPL possible). And the authors of the SPP article give a nod to this idea, when they talk about funding through "Advertising on the Download Site." The SPP
    is an idea for a business model, and not too bad at that (some flaws, to be sure, but not bad).

    Second of all, I think we can count on some (not complete) public adherence to copyright law. In many cases, people (ummm... me) pirate things just because they can't afford to buy it. They'd (I'd) pirate less if either the works they wanted were less money or they had more. Are there some people who would try to get everything free? Yep. But for the most part, I don't think the public is a mass of rabid duplicators waiting to redistribute anything that falls into their hands to everyone they know, nor are they going to go to the effort to find a covert source for everything they want. I'm a pirate sometimes, and a legitimate purchaser
    sometimes. Probably most people are pretty much the same way. Copyright control & adherence, in my view, will never be complete, but neither will it be totally disregarded.

    So mix up the business models. Give away some stuff as a loss leader, and don't try to control the distribution. Sell some other stuff, either by download or in print or on a CD or something. Use the SPP, or put up a website and ask for contributions and promise all those who donate a special release of a creative work. Be creative.
    Success of one model doesn't preclude use of the others.

    One of the coolest promos I ever took advantage of
    was Toad the Wet Sprocket's listener appreciation tour. If you bought a CD at a participating store, you got a free concert ticket. Buying the CD was a no brainer -- buying 6 CDs was a no brainer. Even if it sucked, I got concert tickets. The value for
    $13.50 was suffecient to make me buy. Now, concerts are different thing than IP (fixed creative works), and I'm not sure what my point is
    there, but it was a cool promo and it worked like a charm on me. Maybe the moral of the story is that if you provide value for the price, people will pay.
  • I don't see why schemes like this couldn't work (whether they will work in all practical applications is another story, but it probably is a valid system for data publishing (where data = text, music, etc.). IPdroids, eat your hearts out!!!
  • Good points...

    Also, all-or-nothing distribution seems like a bad idea, and partial distribution seems even worse. Lots of movies lose money, but getting $0 in receipts is a lot worse than getting $10 million
    less than the movie cost you.

    Partial distribution "cheats" those who contributed to the first half, if the rest of the movie is never shown. I'd consider seeing just the first quarter of a movie to be worth a heck of a lot less than 1/4th of a whole "ticket". The value I receive for my "contribution" is almost entirely dependent on what other people have spent, so it's very hard to make a good economic decision on my part. At least with all-or-nothing I can get my money back.

    On the other hand, just giving up and cutting your losses by releasing the entire movie after a certain amount of time defeats the entire system.
  • Isn't one of the profit motives at work for authors, artists, etc... the chance of a really large payoff? Doesn't each writer, artist, etc.. think they could potentially be the next Tom Clancy, Beatles, etc? with the potential to sell a boatload of their book/record so that they can sit back and rake in the dough? With this system, it would seem to forclude this happening, since there doesn't seem to be any motivation to contribute after the predetermined asking price for the next portion/chapter has been hit. It seems like while to you are setting a floor price for the next portion you are also effectively setting a ceiling price as well.
  • It rather neglects the fact that most people, including me, like to read books at their own pace. I tend to read through whole books in one go, and I wouldn`t be very happy about having to wait three months at a time for the next chapter - and be expected to pay for the privelege!
  • I can understand how this applies to works like books and music. Some writers and musicians have styles which can't be imitated convincingly. I would pay for Album 1 from my favorite musician, knowing that I'm helping fund Album 2 from them.

    I have reservations about using this model with software, though. Suppose a developer releases Version 1 and says, "I will release Version 1.1 as soon as I receive $xx.xx".

    Assume that Version 1.1 will have features that I really need now.

    If the source code is available, why couldn't I just add the features I want? If it's Free Software, I could release my own 1.1 for less than the original developer wants. If my Version 1.1 provides the features people need now, why would they wait for the original developer's 1.1?

    Alternative -- Suppose the developer releases 1.0 in binary-only form. The software is free to copy and use, but you don't get the source. Now, it's harder for anyone else to do Version 1.1 first. The developer reasons that he/she is improving their chances of getting money before releasing Version 1.1.

    This is NOT a point against Free Software. My concern is that a scheme such as SPP could lead to more zero-cost software, but might actually discourage real Free Software.
  • A bit off the center line of this idea but something that comes to mind is the concept of a type of stock system for artists, something that addresses the concern of pricing something too low initially or having a huge hit on ones hands and feeling a bit robbed of the returns.

    How about this as a way of calibrating "runaway hits": artist announces a new song is available, it will be released in one year -- and each $100 contributed will move up the release date by one day. (Set the dollars-per-day amount higher or lower depending on the artist's popularity.)

    The song eventually gets released, even if no one donates a dime; but if enough people are interested and contribute, the song could be released almost immediately, and the artist will instantly be $36,500 richer.

    Alternately, the song is to be released in six months, but a contribution total of $1 knocks one week off the release, $2 for two weeks, $4 for three weeks ... each additional doubling knocks off another week. This makes it theoretically possible for the artist to earn up to $32M (not bloody likely for just one song), and eliminates the need to calibrate the pricing to the artist.

  • Plus, I dont like the idea of paying for someone else. In this scheme someone who wants to leech off the good nature of others can do it legally. He just sits back and waits till the software gets paid off. Today, he has to steal it. At least this way there's a little guilt involved :)
  • There is the worry that another publisher will take the released content and undersell without supporting the author...Some will go with the cheaper edition, but who's to say that's bad.

    If history is any guide, the vast majority of people will go with the cheaper edition. In the 19th Century most books were sold through 'unofficial' resellers. This is one of the reasons that authors serialized works: the magazines would pay the author and people would buy the magazine as soon as it appeared, rather than wait the extra weeks it would take for a cheaper source to knock-off a copy. In our situation, there will not be any real lag, certainly not in formatting a book to Rocket or other e-reader standards.

    Ask anyone who has offered pamphlets for a voluntary donation how many people actually pay before grabbing. In this case it usually doesn't matter - you want people to read the work, not support your existance. The individual who is going to spent hundreds, or thousands, of hours crafting a novel is in a diferent situation. This person actually needs the support of an actual check on delivery of the work and I do not believe that will be provided by this system.

    What this system will encourage is the production of 'cliffhanger' novels where each chapter ends with our hero being pressed to the giant sawblade. The old serials were written this way to produce a cheap emotional investment on the part of the reader, with the protagonist in actual danger it is easy to become re-involved with the story. Deeper, more realistically emotional works will not survive the process. Imagine The Razor's Edge, The Sun also Rises or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? chopped into individual peices and fed to you at intervals. The novel looses most of its impact and most people probably loose interest, leaving the work unfunded and so unfinished. We have to accept that methods of selling software, which is basically an industrial product (and, yes, I am a programmer), is not the same as the method we need to use for the sale of creative works that have no actual value; other than the emotional impact they have on users. If we continue on a 'one size fits all' strategy we will never find a valid solution.
  • by Jamm!n ( 39007 )
    This whole idea is breathtakingly naive and is nowhere near a solution to the demise of enforceable copyright. It's downright disturbing that someone could come up with such a half-baked idea. Here is a brief outline of just a few of the major problems with it:
    • Art will stop evolving. No-one will be able to get paid for their work until they have built up a reputation, which probably means releasing at least two albums or three books free of charge first. In reality, the "publishers" will be more concerned to devote webspace to artists that they're going to make money from, ie those who are already established. Getting your foot on the bottom rung, difficult enough now, becomes almost impossible.
    • People aren't interested in something which may or may not be available at some point in the future. When I go into a record shop, I don't ask the guy behind the counter whether he knows when the new album from The Foobar Band is coming out. If ever. I see what's there at the moment. The success of, for example, amazon, depends on people being able to browse things which are currently available, or at least are definitely going to be available soon, and getting a guaranteed delivery date.
    • If people contribute $1 each, most won't bother reclaiming it if the thing is never released. Instant money to publishers for doing sod all!
    Worst thought out bunch of arse I've read since the Mindcraft test...
  • From what I can tell, the trust in the author/publisher thing isn't as big as it's made out to be. I mean, if you're considering a book, in bookstores, you get to preview books now (flipe through pages, etc.), and, if the author got the notion, they'd probably do something similar by posting a few excerpts of varying length. if it's an artist, you can probably hear them on the radio, and, like someone earlier said, every artist makes bad songs from time to time, but, like they also said, it's the risk you take when you buy their CD.

    If it's software you're looking at, you have to consider what else that company has released, and see if you like their trend. and there's also the possibility that another company has a program that's supposed to do similar stuff, that you can acquire if the software you get with SPP doesn't work. But i'm also thinking that all of these fears are inevitable, because, not only are you taking the individual risks that the product will be good and worth your money, you're also taking the major risk associated with dealing online. you can't _see_ the actual product, and you have to trust that the pictures they show, the sound bytes they play, the descriptions they provide are accurate/truthful. and, if you decide that the risk isn't worth it, you go out and buy the product in person. it's that simple.
  • The handy thing about MP3s is that it's an open standard.

    If you need a quick and dirty overview of MP3s, check out

    If you really wanted to, you could write a simple preprocessor that searches for a frame header, uses the info in there to get the position of the next frame header, or the end of the frame you're looking at. If there is something funny in there, i.e. not an mp3 frame, delete everything up to the next header.

    Should get rid of the obvious advertising, anyway. watermarking the info would be a bit more difficult to get rid of.

  • Anyone that's ever read Applied Cryptography knows that Bruce Schneier is a smart guy. I have no doubt that Counterpane Systems could work out a secure system for getting donations to the right people.

    Right now, I'm listening to Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain. I don't really care if I'm listening to a CD or an MP3 or a tape or a record or something new being streamed off a server in Brazil; what I care about is that I can listen to Miles Davis. I'm somewhat concerned that this new protocol forgets that we're talking about art and artists here.

    Giving artists money and then having artists produce seems somewhat backward. Now, I know, perhaps this is how Stephen King works; publishers know that Stephen King will write a guaranteed best-seller. But whether Stephen King's novels qualify as art is debatable. Artists pretty much produce what they want, they take risks. And the only way we can figure out if we like their art is if we first experience it. Perhaps, and only perhaps, we'd be willing to pay money in advance for new work by the most established and respected artists, since we're pretty sure we'll like what they produce. There's not much risk to that.

    But any new art is a risk. If I asked you to give me $100,000 so I could write my first novel, would you contribute money? I doubt it. But if I wrote it, gave you a copy, and you loved it, would you then be willing to give me a dollar? Probably.

    What this protocol seems to imply is that new artists should first give the public a taste of what they've developed so far, and then withhold any more art until s/he has been paid a certain amount. Perhaps this protocol should be called "The Street Pusher Protocol" instead. I think this implies a contract: pay me money and I'll give you more of the same.

    Stephen King would survive with such a system, since, and this is probably flamebait but oh well, he writes the same bad novel over and over and over again. But would the ever-restless Miles Davis survive? If Miles Davis had been paid to be a young Dizzy Gillespie, would he have produced the Cool sessions? But let's suppose he did... we gave him money to play the Parker/Gillespie stuff we first heard him play and instead he produced Birth of the Cool. Wouldn't we be kind of pissed off because he didn't fulfill his contract? Would we continue to support him? I don't think so. And that means we'd be without Porgy and Bess, Walkin', Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, and Bitches Brew, all of which were quite different from each other. How supportive of new art is this protocol? What do you think? I'm not too sure it would do the job.

  • The irony in this, of course, is that if people wouldn't voluntarily pay for the things the government spends money on, then those things aren't the will of the people anyway. The argument that "we need taxes to make us pay what we want to pay for" is self-defeating.

    So much for democracy.

    Though I do agree with the second point, that people would rip off artists if not for copyright law...
  • Just like to note that this not "my" thesis -- the Protocol seemed to be a good idea getting the short end of the stick. However --

    What if the world doesn't cooperate? And even if it does, then I guess this scheme would then be vulnerable to copyright barbarians at the gates.

    I think you're making a mistake by requiring a significant change in the way people do business as a prerequisite. As a consequence, fine, but not as a prerequisite.

  • Sure. If your favorite author didn't produce anything, this model assumes that its because his price hasn't been met. You want him to produce something, so you send him the price of a book. Some time later (next month?) the publisher/author/middleman sends you the content that that author has created and you produce your container of choice for it at home. Or, if you value anonymity, you contribute anonymously and go pick up a copy at the anonymous bookstore.

    It's basically allowing market forces to come into play: the supply will continue to drop to meet the demand as expressed in money sent to an author. If the supply drops below this demand (for new content, not new copies, remember), the people who have been freeloading will pay up or do without. Since demand for content seems to be rather high currently (as expressed by the number of containers of that content sold), and shows no particular signs of slowing down, I would expect the freeloaders to pay up rather than the authors to shift to a patron-client relationship.

  • by _Quinn ( 44979 ) on Thursday July 08, 1999 @08:04PM (#1812121)

    I'll respond to some of the concerns raised here in order, after a set of general comments.

    First, it's important to realize that the Protocol depends on the assumption that copyright law is already broken, and only becomes valid when that point is reaced. Furthermore, it depends on the notion that the current scarcity model for content can no longer be applied. Some of the comments address this contention ("nobody wants to read novels online"), missing the assumption that we've effectively divorced content from its container.

    For example, this is already 90% true in music. After a relatively small initial investment, anyone with a decent computer and a decent netlink can burn their own audio CD's at something like $4 a pop. It becomes increasingly apparent that 'piracy' of musical content is astoundlingly widespread and equally impossible to stop. Music distribution is digital until the point it gets on the wires to your speakers, so it's the perfect example. The cost incurred by the end-user (burning the CD) is a concession to the lack of universal networking, not any particular inability to enjoy the music in another form (i.e. your HD, a flashcard, etc). Similarly, the major obstacle to purely digital distribution of novels and texts is two-fold: first, a universal (de-facto) standard (or a pair, like mp3 and CDA) for distribution of content (ASCII text simply doesn't cut it for a serious work), and a cheap home system for manufacturing the container -- nobody's produced a system for manufacturing paperback novels from a home computer systems. (AFAIK.)

    So the Protocol depends on the assumption that we've not only developed a low- or no- cost system for distribution of content (the internet) but also a low- or no- cost system for creation of containers. Otherwise, the whole model breaks because people will be willing to pay for copies of the content -- which, in turn, allows copyright law to be enforced, because there's some central point manufacturing those containers. With those points in mind, let's look at the issues raised.

  • It's good that this articles is promoting thought and discussion on the subject. However since people have said that they wouldn't mind paying say, $1 or $2 for an electronic version of a CD for which they would pay $15-$20, why not just have the artists sell direct to the public for a buck or too?

    It seems to me that the primary concern should be eliminating overhead (the middleman, etc.) to reduce costs and increase production. Keep in mind that copying a CD over the internet is NOT free, all that bandwidth has to be paid for. Also, promoting your work is a lot harder without a "big name" to decide whether they think you are good enough to "make it big" (and this is really how they keep prices so high, by limiting the supply!), but the internet provides the potential for significant cost savings.

    The bottom line may be that a $15 CD will really only be $5 instead of $1 as mentioned. The real costs incurred for promotion and duplication do have to be paid, and an artist that is wildly popular deserves a bigger payback, but definitely the Internet provides the potential for cost cutting.

    Of course, those that resist are the ones who have the most to lose... just like the old candlemakers when the light bulb came along. But where are they now?

  • Is it just me, or does it make more sense for micropayments based on delivered content?

    the overview states: "There is an alternative. Using the logic of a street performer, the author goes directly to the readers before the book is published; perhaps even before the book is written. The author bypasses the publisher and makes a public statement on the order of: "When I get $100,000 in donations, I will release the next novel in this series."

    Sorry, but the street performer doesn't ask for money first, they do their thing and accept donations. People don't need a new paradigm, just a standard protocol to be able to easily pay an artist.

  • by colmore ( 56499 ) on Thursday July 08, 1999 @06:08PM (#1812124) Journal
    This is as silly as "eCash" and "Micropayments" it will simply never succeed. If this generates any money at all I will forever hold my peice and amke no more web predictions. That is of course a lie.

    Why this thing can't work:
    1) "Serialization" do we want everything to be serialized like that dumb Stephen King (get well soon!) marketing ploy to sell the green mile? Seeing the X-Files come in segments is one thing. Waiting for months as an album or novel is delivered peacemeal is quite different.

    2) Artist Frustration. What If the work doesn't generate any "Street Money?" and the Artists work never shows up. In the very simplistic views of the goals of the different participants a key goal of the artist was left out: expression. Sure the artist has to eat, but if that fails at least he or she can make a statement and have work published. Under this doomed system the artist that wasn't able to get people to pay for the promise of more work has a large body of unpublished work that they cannot release by contract. If we add a provision that says that if after some time the work isn't published then the artist regains rights to publish then the public won't pay, they'll just wait a little while longer (and with the pace of the internet being what it is, that wouldn't be too fast)

    3) Who's going to pay? They tried to sell content once. Only porn sells directly. If people wouldn't pay for content that ALLREADY existed then why would anyone pay for essentially vaporware. And if the publisher is having trouble generating money then they could easily reach the financial position of being unable to pay angry "customers" back. Even on a guarauteed site, I don't like giving out my credit card number too often. And paying for vaporware isn't something i'd take any risk on.

    4) Servers are getting better and cheaper. The promise of internet content is to REMOVE the middleman from publishing. Any artist able to make money by this obsurd system could surely afford a $20 to $30 per month account at dreamhost [] or somewhere. As servers and bandwidth get better the expense of streaming content and large file storage and big transfer rates will plummit. Artists won't need a Publisher. All they'd need is a friend or hired highschooler to write some HTML.

    5) Online novels, maybe the only thing that could succeed on this payment plan, won't happen. Reading large amounts of text on the screen is painful even for bloodshot veterans and truely great books (I reccomend Catch-22 and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man :^]) are available at you LIBRARY for free. And reading is more fun when you can curl up with some hot chocolate under a quilt and feel the pages in your hands.

    What we need, and I forsee coming within the next 5-10 years, is a very secure system of one click payment on the internet (well one click and a password... sure) this way artist sites could have a simple "donate" button where with two typed fields and a button you could give him or her a buck or two. This would be psychologically easier than pulling out the old card and filling in your name rank and number again and again. With a simple way to give small amounts of money people would be more inclined to acts of small charity. However browsers would have to be guaraunteed to allways alert you to a transaction and allways tell the true amount being sent. Maybe even have a sending delay so you could cancel within 48 hours or so.

    Well slashdotters what do you think?
  • I don't think this is ridiculous. I do think you have pointed out the flaws in the SPP. Obviously something must be done about the current state of copyright law in the near future. I think the SPP, being a work in progress, can be modified to fix the holes in it that you pointed out.

    1) Serialization. You're right. I agree that there's not enough demand for serialized works to move entire markets to that model. The burden of trust needs to be moved back to the consumers, not the suppliers, as other slashdotters have mentioned. Consumers should be sending money to suppliers for content they've already created--like the market works currently. But the mechanism for doing so would be a quick and easy, privacy-assured electronic system for payment such as the authors of SPP described. Analogous systems exist today in the service industry: whenever I tip a waitress, we are having the exact same sort of transaction that I described above, only on more mundane terms. Think about it.

    2) Artist Frustration. I don't think the artist is forced to use the SPP. SPP, and the variations we discuss here, are just ways of exchanging content without the protection of existing copyright law. Artists will be free to release and distribute their content however they wish, including circumventing any SPP or similar system.

    3) Who's going to pay? I think the majority of consumers are willing to pay for what they perceive to be worthy content. The trick is getting the mass market to accept these rules of commerce as thoroughly as they do the ones of our current cash system--not impossible, but certainly something that needs to be looked after. The other trick is having a electronic standard as good as cash for making payments. I agree with you about the credit cards--they are not an truly acceptable method of conducting business electronically. I believe a government-backed standard is in order, much the same as cash is today. The more ecommerce is like plunking down your twenties at the Wal-Mart (or Lord & Taylor), the better.
    Honestly, I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say they tried to sell content once and failed. Are you talking about efforts to charge subscription rates on websites? Or perhaps you are taking the view that the history of information and art cash-exchanges is really about material, distribution, and storage costs? I can't tell.

    4) Servers are getting better and cheaper. I agree with you here, and honestly do not see this as a problem. Kudos to the start-up artists that operate their own servers, or the big-name author who bypass the publishing middlemen by making his own site. But, for many of the rest, having a publisher or some other promoter will be essential. Every author needs an editor, every musician needs an engineer. The middlemen will continue to serve these roles, as well as distribution, most likely. It has been and will always be true that division of labor leads to more efficiency and greater production. Would you rather have your favorite musician worrying about their next album or the scalability of their server?

    5) Online novels, maybe the only thing that could succeed on this payment plan, won't happen. Not on a CRT monitor, they won't. Displays will be developed that feature the portability and legibility of books, but in electronic format. That is crucial to the sale of electronic books; without the invention of something comparable to electronic printing press, you are quite right: online novels will not happen.

  • That is a truly neat idea. I really do like it. But I have doubts about whether it could work in the mainstream. Here's why.

    How many books do you buy in a year? A dozen? We'll say a dozen for the sake of argument. Say they each cost $30. That's a fair average. That comes out to $360 tied up in escrows during the year, while the publisher waits for donations to accumulate. It may take a year or more to accumulate the kind of donations required to make a book worth the time to write it.

    But that's assuming that there's a minimum donation of $30. If there's no minimum donation, then maybe I could get all these books for only $12. This is where I think the problem is. No one is going to pony up enough dough, in hopes that someone else will.

    Here's the thing. If there was one fantastic book that was published under this protocol, maybe I would put forward a decent donation. But I really can't say that I would send $40 to a publisher in hopes that maybe in 8 months I will get a book that I haven't even gotten to flip through yet. And certainly I wouldn't do this for more than two or so books at a time. It's so much more convenient and comforting to stand in Barnes & Noble, with a Caffe Mocha in one hand and the latest O'Reilly in the other, flipping the pages, and gauging whether I like the book enough to pay the price tag.

    I don't mean to be a FUDmonger, by any means. Perhaps I'm overlooking something important about the protocol. Anyone have any idea how to get around these problems?
  • One point I don't see having been made in the replies here: how does a new author get started?

    Nobody's going to pay for my first novel if they don't know who I am or whether I'm likely to be any good. Try Before You Buy has completely bitten the dust, because nobody even gets to read reviews before committing their money.

    I'd have to start by publishing a couple of novels completely for free, and once people had decided they liked them, then they might pay for a third. And can you imagine the hate mail I'd get if my third novel was rubbish, from the people who paid money for me to finish it?

  • The real problem is that this 'protocol' (Ahem, system of begging) is for STREET performers. Not for the average american writer, artist, etc. This is not how they make money. This system does not reward the artist/programmer that makes something really popular. For example, if you write a program that is insanley useful and hard to write, to the public, and heavily undercharge for it, thinking that such a program would be only useful to a few. When in reality it's useful to many people. This system doesn't reward your had work. This is unfair to the artist. Instead of rewarding hard work, it rewards reputation. What if someone promises a work that is undeliverable? What about support of that product. If somebody writes a program that works, but only 40% of the time, what good is it? Do we have to pay a ransom to have this (or another, since I assume that the source would be realeased) programmer fixes our beloved application. Although I admit, these things happen in the system we already use, the current system rewards people who write popular, and useful programs more.
  • I might as well listen to the radio in that case. Digital music is a great idea, but much more work for the user than, say, the radio, except that mp3's are more convienient because i can linsten to what i want when i want. if i listen to some songs more than others then i don't mind paying for the song. if you truly respect a groups music than you arn't going to want to screw them over. attaching a cost to every song you hear sounds like divx. i would like it better if winamp had a counter so that i could keep track of what songs i listen to most.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.