When I first read this, I felt Diller’s argument was wrong, but could not put my finger on why.

Jon Udell: Scarcity versus abundance of talent Over the weekend I listened to the ITConversations podcast of Barry Diller’s appearance at Web 2.0. He’s a thoughtful and articulate guy and I recommend the entire interview, but here’s the crucial quote from the soundbite I bookmarked:

There’s not that much talent in the world, and talent almost always outs. There’s very few people, in very few closets, that are really talented and can’t find their way out. Somehow they get out.

… it wasn’t until I heard Diller’s remarkable statement that I finally got to the crux of the issue. Is talent scarce or abundant? If you believe that talent is scarce, as Diller does, then it’s going to have to be metered, and we’re headed down the DRM path for sure. If you believe that talent is relatively abundant, as Doc and I do, then you imagine a very different future where technology favors use over control.

The scarcity argument can’t be dismissed out of hand. Maybe Diller’s right. But what if he’s wrong? If the DRM train has already left the station, we’ll never do the experiment and we’ll never know the answer.

What is wrong with Dillier’s argument is his definition of talent. From the world-view of an outfit looking to control, mass-market, and reap huge profits - the sort of “talent” they are looking for probably is as Diller describes. When Diller says “really talented”, he is referring to the size of the market.

My definition of “talent” as a consumer is quite different. When I go looking for music to buy, I am looking for a “talent” whose work I like. I don’t care if their audience is ten other people, ten thousand or ten million. Customers evaluate “talent” by the whether the works produced appeal to their individual taste. In the end, customers define the market.

The trick is how to make the “long tail” work. This is a search problem - how can the consumer find all those interesting “talents” that have markets too small for Diller and friends?

Pandora seems to have the best solution to the hard part of the search problem - they do a very good job of finding music similar to works I like. The use of a postage-stamp sized Flash applet is a pain. At this point I am so annoyed with the RIAA that I am very unlikely to buy anything from an RIAA member - and it seems that everything Pandora returns is from an RIAA member. Promising but - at least for me - presently useless.

Magnatune is interesting for how they package and deliver music. The problem with Magnatune is limited selection - I’ve bought everything they offer that I like.