Journalist Robert Levine came to his event at the Edinburgh Book Festival on the back of a provocative Observer article, and began by explaining the rationale behind his claim that, “the current model of internet commerce is unsustainable.”
Not dissimilar, I thought, to the original Ford Prefect of Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, he began by explaining that fundamentally, “we tell ourselves stories in order to understand the world,” and that in this, his first book, Free Ride: How the Internet is Destroying the Culture Business, he attempts not to slam the old model, but to ask if the current one is at all sustainable.
While not a major critic of Shawn Fanning, who he insists “didn’t create Napster for money, but rather to develop a new way of distributing music,” he took issue with Fanning’s claims that his invention redefined music. “He didn’t,” said Levine. “What he really did was redefine the trucking industry.”
On Google, seen by many as a pretty good thing for the Internet, his opinion was less than glowing. “Google will not give you advice that is good for you or what you want, it will give you advice that is good for Google.”
Levine cited Bjork’s latest album that comes with an iPad app for every track. While this may well be “pointing the way for the future of the music album, it is not something that could have been done under Google’s Android operating system. It could only have been achieved under Apple’s model because it is closed.”
In summarising what was a very provocative hour of thinking and promotion of a new approach to internet commerce, Levine simply said: “I’m not defending legacy business, but we have a broken market that now makes it difficult to create something and then sell it.”