Instead of thinking of piracy forcing a “price” of zero, you think of it as being a “cost” of zero.
In economics, we’re often taught, is the “science of scarcity” or understanding resource allocation in the presence of scarcity. All too often, economics itself is defined by scarcity. The “zero” changes all of that. Plugging a zero into an equation that expects a non-zero sends it haywire (think of what happens when you divide by zero) — and that leads people to think that the equation must be broken. So, for example, basic economics tells you that a free market will push prices towards their marginal costs. If their marginal costs are zero (as is the case with digital goods and intellectual property), then it says that price will get pushed towards zero. However, this makes people upset, and makes them suggest the model is broken when a zero is applied. They see a result where there is no scarcity, and it doesn’t make sense to them since they’ve always understood economics in the context of scarcity.
However, the point is that if you understand the zero, there’s nothing to worry about and the model works perfectly. It just requires a recognition that the scarcity doesn’t exist. Instead, you have abundance. You can have as much content as you need — and in that world, it makes perfect sense that there’s no costs, because without scarcity there need not be a cost. Supply is infinite, and price is zero. That does not mean, however, that there’s no business. Instead, it just means you need to flip the equation and use the zero to your advantage. Instead of thinking of it as forcing a “price” of zero, you think of it as being a “cost” of zero. Suddenly, you’ve lowered the cost of making something to nothing — and you should then try to use as much of it as you can. One simple example of this is to use that item that “costs” zero as a promotional good for something that does not have a zero marginal cost. When you realize how zero factors in, you realize that there’s nothing new or radical here at all. It’s just coming to terms with the idea that free market economics still works in the face of zero (in fact, it thrives) and there’s no reason to put in place government-sanctioned barriers to shape the market.
- Mike Masnick