The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

Thoughts from Macworld about what Apple's really up to, and how parallel moves by Linux are equally easy to miss.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Re: The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

Anonymous's picture

Insightful post, Doc. I work in the music industry and watched the phenomenon you outline actually take shape before Apple's GarageBand. In addition to the economic level you describe, it also operates on a political level. I've extended your argument in that direction at Super Long Play (

Re: The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

jpivonka's picture

There may indeed be a desire by information technology people to move the economy toward providing tools to people who want to create art and ideas, and new (potentially disruptive) technologies.

But that is not the way that the closed society and economy of the National Security State currently being established here, and most everywhere else, is moving. I doubt that Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, and all their millions (even were they capable of working together) could overcome the powers of darkness and entrenched, natural resource based industries to reverse the mandate of the information age, and return us to industrial feudalism.

Certainly they will have neither help nor succor from entrenched communications companies like the RBOCS who are attempting to delay and control VOIP telephony. Or from the established medial conglomerates who would perpetuate thier own exploitation of artists while stangling peer to peer technology in its crib under pretext or protecting the intellectual product franchise extended by the republic to those same creators.

From an article published on September 19, 2001 - eight days after 9-11: "However, the ruling Republican Party is going to correct America-s domestic and foreign policies due to the grand terrorist attack. ...control over the private and public life of the American people is going to be toughened, including the business sphere. The U.S. will shift its emphasis from hi-tech constituents over to the raw materials companies -- the ones which deal with oil and gas fuel first and foremost. The weight of the military and industrial complex in GNP will be raised and the national ABM program will certainly be launched. Bush and other figures of the American Republican administration are absolutely interested in this scenario v it is an open secret for everyone."

Well, it's an analysis by a Russian - but I think has proven accurate nonetheless.


Anonymous's picture

We're seeing the same thing happening in journalism... and the music business.... Soon we'll see it in movies. How long before some low-budget, high-quality movie becomes a huge hit on DVD without any help from Hollywood?

And how long before an open source project/group comes up with some method/protocol/etc, to colaboratively work on and produce a movie? Check act 2 scene 3 out of cvs, add some dialog, define a new character graphically, give him some movement, then check it back in. Then, when its done, all the project contributors use their machines in a distributed processor arrangement to render it.

Re: The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

Anonymous's picture

Very nice article. I think you could have put in two other things that are, I think, associated and obvious enough to show your point.

First is rap music. By removing musical talent from the equation rap has made producers out of its consumers. All you need to be able to do is rhyme and (supposedly) sing. Take samples, stitch together, add vocal track. While I question the quality all day, it has opened up the music production business in a way that even things like punk rock didn't (because you still had to be able to play three chords). Consumers have become producers and a whole community has grown up along side the industry. Apple's iMovie does something similar by allowing people who can shoot (or get footage some other way) to not have to know how to do all the other things associated with making a production like making transitions, putting titles on the screen, etc.

Second advances like those Apple makes drive the rest of the computer industry. Some people will argue that companies like Microsoft are only beholding to their shareholders. But the big companies have figured out that making money for shareholders is a matter of producing what consumers want. So when Apple releases the famously simple iMovie and people start producing things with it, Windows users (which Microsoft tracks just like everybody else) want something similar and Microsoft feels compelled to produce something similar. Even if the program is not creating a big demand in and of itself, the marketplace (including reviewers, retailers, Wall Street analysts, the competitor's pride and consumers who buy based on feature sets they'll never use) push Microsoft to keep pace. And where Microsoft goes, a thousand software houses follow with different versions the same kind of software.

Another small point: I think you missed an important distinction about consumerism. I don't think it's a red herring. It's just a marketing/industry /government term that has leaked into public use. When you look at it from the industry's viewpoint, consumerism aptly describes the situation: it's all about the consumer and making people consumers. You build for the consumer, you market to the consumer, you service the consumer (often in the animal husbandry sense, but still). That's why marketing surveys and focus groups and all those little consumer-tracking tricks have become so prevalent. They need to turn us into a mass society of mass consumers to maximize their sales and thus shareholder value.

Considering the term from the consumer's perspective, as you did, shows it is, indeed, backwards.

Anyway, nice insight, excellent article. Thanks.

joe f.

Re: The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

Anonymous's picture

Wow. Repeatedly I am confused why people thing rapping is easy. I recommend you try, and get back to me on your progress. It is "just rhyming," after all. It should not take you more than a couple of months to come up with an Eminem-level song. The actual rapping of that song may be harder than its formation, depending on you. ^_^ Something else...this is not a reply to joe f., just a general scream. "Rappers can't sing." No *****. They're not trying to, jackass.

In any case, I do not see how Apple is making producers out of its consumers any more than any other developer is. Microsoft has Visual Studio. I buy it, BLAM! I'm a Windows producer. And, I do not charge for any of my products. I buy CorelDRAW for any platform, I produce images, etc. I think the main cause of analytic difficulty is all the levels of abstraction interacting with themselves. I think the difference noted is that Apple advertises its creative consumer software, while Microsoft doesn't even make such software. I mean, wtf is a movie maker? As was pointed out, it is something I am not bound to use, ever. Unless I am piecing together a bunch sectored pornographic videos. For anything serious I use an art program. I think Microsoft's reasoning is, "Let third parties come up with it."

Re: The New Economy Hack: Turning Consumers into Producers

Anonymous's picture

Linux has certainly turned the OS market into something users can produce with. Take Runtime Revolution for example. Users have a script based IDE which is a cross platform multimedia application producer.
What the Linux communitity really needs now, is an Open Source Motherboard based on the AMD 64 bit chip, which is not tied to a measly 1 Gig of RAM or any of the other market place limitations that motherboard manufacturers place on us creative users.
How about Linux Journal taking up the cause with an Open Source design. Then we might be able to pussh the leading edge in this area, like the Linux OS has done in that other user space.
Tom Russell
Computerbank Queensland

Not quite as rosy as that. Apple is still old school.

Anonymous's picture

While the "i" apps are great enablers, Apple is, like Microsoft, a corporation that is accountable to its shareholders and that make money the old fashioned way: by retaining control. Everything Apple produces that is truly successful is closed source, heavily controlled, and exclusive to Apple. On the other hand, open source software is about removing that kind of centralized control. Despite their support of things like Konqueror and Darwin, I don't see Apple ever releasing enough information for the open source community to be able to really take part in their "consumer as producer" paradigm. Don't get me wrong, Apple's products are really great, but they are still fundamentally all about control.


Anonymous's picture

Should we now expect an article about how Sony, Panasonic, JVC, [insert consumer electronics manufacturer of choice] are enabling "consumers" as the new "producers" just because those manufacturers produce digital video cameras? At least those products are less likely to be DRM'd to the hilt whilst producing output that'll be unreadable in five years time.


Anonymous's picture

While important, the freedom-as-in-speech of software is in no way an absolute freedom. It's just a layer. In most cases, the CPU below the software is not free, and in many cases the free software is used to produce non-free artifacts - we know that film-gimp is used to produce films, but the films are not free.

So, the generic freedom to create is distinct from the very specific freedom to copy and modify software. My understanding of this article is that Apple are aiming to create a higher-level freedom, an "ecosystem" of free film and music. The tools are not free, but I think that we will see a lot more free art because of the tools.

If Apple is successful, then there will be a shift in power from the "producers" to the "consumers", as the latter start to compete with the former. This is similar to how Free Software is currently turning the software industry itself around. Apple is just working at a higher layer, one that their business model allows them to work in.