One of the most contentious issues in modern times is set to escalate to a whole new level. That’s right, people, copyright law, trademark law, and its enforcement is about to get messy – well, messier than it already seems. At the same time, recent developments have given me a new perspective on past events as well, to share.

For a starter, let’s look at the more egregious outstanding issues that we’ve already got on our plate, and at least some of the story about how we got here. Some of these might not seem directly related to RPGs, but I’ll connect the dots at the end, so bear with me.

The Old Problems

There have been problems and minefields related to the protection of ideas for centuries. Some of these landmines have been defused, some have corroded with changing technology, and some have gone off.

Trademarking A Color

Let’s start with something that, so far, has been relatively benign.

It used to be that a unique design was needed to receive a trademark. I first became aware that the landscape had changed in 2007 when some promotional materials for one of the big four banks in Australia, the ANZ included, in the fine print, that the color of the logo was trademarked (as “ANZ Blue”, I think – from memory). I soon discovered that this was not the only corporation that had trademarked a color, as this discussion reveals. These days, the practice is increasingly widespread, as this article shows. I understand that some car makers have even trademarked particular paint colors.

I can see how specifying a particular color as one of the distinguishing features of a trademark would be legitimate. I can see how patenting a particular process of painting a vehicle to produce a unique shading scheme, as for the McLaren formula 1 team’s silver transition paint job, might be legitimate. Even trademarking the association between a particular type of product and a particular shade would be reasonable – and that is, reportedly, what the Bank were trying to achieve. But trademarking a particular color seems extraordinarily problematic to me. It’s all about restricting what we are allowed to do with color, a natural phenomenon.

Color is used as a focal point for corporate identity in the modern world. Specifying a particular color for a logo and then using that color for outlet paint, uniforms, etc, all creates a unifying association between those elements. It’s only right and fair that a company be able to protect that association, I don’t dispute that; but being actually able to trademark the color itself? No.

Just because a legal principle is used in a benign manner does not mean that it will only ever be used for that purpose. By accepting the principle of trademarking color, a can of worms has been opened that sooner or later will cause problems. This is one of those legal landmines that has not yet gone off. We can only hope that it’s a dud.

False Advertising And The Music Industry

The File Sharing / Music Copyright problems, for example, seem to have largely quietened down, at least for the moment. An overprotective music industry which sought to squeeze every last cent of profit, draconian protection mechanisms, lopsided legal influence. Or have they? The success of iTunes and similar legal avenues for the purchase of music in digitally-encoded formats has taken a lot of the steam out of the issue, but it simply puts a more legitimate frontman at the front of the parade – Apple have a far better case for attacking P2P file-sharing systems as they directly compete with the for-profit distribution channel that they have built and popularized. Heck, I buy some music through iTunes myself.

Really, when you get down to it, the heart of that problem is that the Music Industry was guilty of false advertising for decades. They advertised music as “for sale” – “buy the new album by X” – and focused on the medium, thinking that the two were one and the same. The first warning that this perception was flawed was the kerfuffle over piano player rolls but it went unheeded. A more serious wakeup call came with the advent of blank audio cassettes, but that warning was also unheeded. What they were actually selling – at least in their minds – was the limited right to use the music for one particular purpose, i.e. listening to by the person who bought it. You couldn’t use it for any other purpose without negotiating the right to do so with the “permanent owners” of those rights. What customers thought they were buying was far less than that – and so, when the recording industry moved to restrict public usage to what they saw as the valid purposes for which the purchaser had paid, excluding those purposes that the public and the industry disagreed on, people got angry.

Music used to be given away to the public for free, so far as the public was concerned. It came over the radio. But what was actually happening was that the radio station was paying the record companies for the right to broadcast the performance, then extracting payment from their listeners by broadcasting advertising. If you wanted to listen to the music, you had to listen to the advertising. When music videos became successful marketing tools, once again the music industry gave them away for free and recouped the cost of doing so through the increased sales that resulted. Then they got greedy and started to charge. Or perhaps it was simply that the sums being spent on the videos made no economic sense, and this was the only way to continue funding them. Either way, most of the music video shows died, or shifted to the more liberal independent sources.

From the public perspective, what was happening was that they heard the music for free, and if they liked it, they could buy a copy for their collections. There were some artists whose work they liked enough that they would buy it, unheard. Because this programming was cheap for the radio stations, and later, for the TV networks to produce, they proliferated.

When the music industry first demanded that the radio stations pay-to-play, the Radio Stations should have accepted on the proviso that they were advertising the product and would pay the fees if the record labels would pay the full commercial advertising rates for the duration of the song. This would have brought the whole mess into the open and enabled some reasonable compromise to be reached.

The upshot was that by discounting the benefits received in promotion of their products, the music industry killed the promotion and distribution channels that had grown up as secondary industries around their primary function. As these began to die, they looked for someone else to blame, found the file-sharing services that had stepped into the breach – nature abhors a vacuum, and that holds true for human nature as well as physical reality – and became draconic in enforcing their “rights”. Since they weren’t addressing the real problem, it didn’t have much effect. The promotional channels shut down, the hits stopped happening, and the retail stores that survived by selling the hits to the public collapsed and went away. And, to a large extent, the record labels collapsed in consequence.

No-one could argue that there have not been some benefits from the collapse of the old distribution channels. More people are able to make and distribute their music than ever, simply because they no longer have to jump through the hoops of attracting record label interest, getting a contract, getting their recordings through the A&R filter, then through the selectivity of the old promotional channels before the product became available to the general public. These days, you can do it yourself, and put it on YouTube. There is a greater freedom for artists to express themselves.

But Commercial Mass-market doesn’t mean bad. The old system pushed artists to find some common ground with a large audience segment, filtered out the extremes, and ensured that a product could be enjoyed by a large number of people. Their work was more accessible. One of the reasons I buy a LOT less music than I once did, even in proportion to my income, is that there is simply less out there that I like. (The last CD I bought was of the 2012 Eurovision Song Festival – one of the remaining global promotional vehicles. Which, I think, proves my point.)

While these problems may have receded from public awareness, defused by the advent of iTunes, by a less over-the-top aggressive stance on the part of the RIAA, and by the public backlash from the DRM/Rootkit Scandal, ongoing fallout constitutes the leading edge of new problems, and those directly affect the RPG industry.

Monopolism and the Channels Of Distribution

Comics
Newsstands used to be the primary outlet for Comics Publishers. When these became fewer in number, allegedly because of the Wal-Mart effect, primary distribution shifted to specialist stores. A combination of oversaturation with “collector’s editions” and marketing gimmicks, internal industrial disputes such as the breakaway formation of Image Comics, and escalating prices for deluxe formats brought about a collapse within the industry. Both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, the two largest producers and distributors, have had financial problems as a consequence. As the market shrunk, the prices needed to sustain profitability escalated to nonsensical levels, further shrinking the market. Comics used to be cheap – I can remember being able to buy five or ten each week with a reasonable amount of pocket money, as a kid. I stopped collecting them when they hit A$10 each. These days, I’m told the price is closer to $A20 an issue. I don’t consider $100-200 a week to be a reasonable amount of pocket money. The parallels with the collapse of the music industry are obvious – and it may be no coincidence that both are owned by media conglomerates.

Small businesses have it rough, and have always operated on a razor’s edge profit margin. One of the greatest criticisms of superstores like Wal-Mart are that they increase the pressure on small businesses beyond the breaking point, with the result that the small businesses fold. Consequently, the variety of products that were available in the specialist store is reduced to only the most popular commodities.

Wal-Mart
By centralizing purchasing power in this way, the superstores become subject to charges of monopolism. These can be easily countered provided that the superstores do not engage in monopolistic practices; unfortunately, most do. Control of the retail sector becomes more vertical, dominated by a relatively small number of corporate entities. That’s a recipe for corruption and excess, and most of the criticism of Wal-Mart comes to two factors: unfair market advantages and monopolistic behavior.

It was big news within the industry a few years back when Wal-Mart changed its policies with respect to RPGs. Hard-covered books that could be handled by the book sections were still fine, but soft-covered low-cost elements like game modules were considered magazines and to be pruned from Wal-Mart stores as unprofitable in comparison with other products.

Amazon
Similar criticisms have been leveled at Amazon.com by bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Again, many can be boiled down to an allegation of monopolistic practices.

And yet, the ability of many independents to compete for sales through Amazon’s new-and-used operations provide a new distribution channel for struggling small businesses, expanding their customer base from the strictly local to the global. So, as much as Amazon may be part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.

Online Home Shopping
Being physically disabled to some extent, I found it very difficult to shop at the local supermarkets. For a while, I managed by using home deliveries; but these days I do my grocery shopping over the internet at one of the leading supermarket chains. It’s cheaper than home delivery plus fares to the supermarket to do the shopping in person, and less physically strenuous. In effect, this is similar to buying books on Amazon, and amounts to the conversion of the supermarket chain into a virtual superstore with a multitude of suburban distribution centers that also have a direct-to-the-public retail capacity.

This can’t help but put more financial pressure on the neighborhood corner stores. The convenience of being able to just pop in when I need something is therefore under greater threat as a result. I therefore make it a point to use those local stores for the purchase of those products that both have in common. Even so, the majority of my purchases from the local stores tend to be products that the online supermarket simply doesn’t stock. Since they will stock what sells, the corner store is becoming a specialist store in “everything else”, and anything that needs physical inspection before I am sure it’s the type I want, like light bulbs.

Because that’s the pattern that I’ve been observing over the last 3 decades or so – superstores closing specialist stores with a resulting monopolistic trend, collapse of minority industries, and resulting absence of the products that I want to buy from the marketplace.

The New Problems

Which brings me to the new problems that are crawling out of the woodwork.

Copyrighting Genetics

For the last 30 years, genes have been patentable. 20% of the genes in the human body are now the “property” of someone as a result of such patents. Check out this article. Those patents are now being challenged. With biotechnology set to become a big-ticket industry over the course of the current decade, this one is going to get bigger and bigger.

Copyrighting Vocabulary

There are a number of trademarked words that have entered the general vocabulary. “Google” is recognized as a verb for carrying out an internet search on Google.com, and is included in many dictionaries. Wikipedia maintains a List of protected trademarks frequently used as generic terms that is surprisingly long. If you scroll up, you will find a much shorter list of terms that started as protected trademarks, became general vocabulary, and have remained in general use after the lapse of the original trademark, like “Zipper”. Perusing both lists shows that this is nothing new, and we’ve managed all right so far, so what’s the problem?

In 2010, Facebook trademarked the word “Book”. Facebook have also trademarked “wall,” “like,” and “face”, according to the article. Apple have trademarked the use of the letter “i” as in “iTunes” and “iPad”.

It’s one thing for a product to become so universally recognized that its name enters the general vocabulary. It’s quite another for an existing general term to become a protected trademark. This flew under the radar at the time, but sooner or later the dysfunction between popular usage and what usage is permitted under the law is going to explode in someone’s face. And, like the music industry example, there will be substantial public acrimony when it does.

Custom File Formats As A Protection Mechanism

It is becoming more common for DVD Recorders to use a proprietary file format to store its recordings so that they cannot be played through any other device. Is this the latest move to protect copyrights on the part of the media conglomerates? Or is it the choice of the device manufacturer, seeking to protect proprietary technology within the device?

By adding yet another layer of complexity, how long will it be before material is offered in a proprietary format that enforces DRM? Oh wait, some file formats already do that. How about a separate file format with it’s own user-agreement?

At some point, someone will sue a maker of file-format conversion software, for accessing the file format in a way or for a purpose forbidden by the terms of the usage agreement, and the whole copyright issue will explode again.

Trademarking Basic Concepts

The most recent development puts Facebook on the receiving end of its own aggressive protection practices. According to an article published on Mashable on Feb 12, just over a month ago, Facebook are being sued by Rembrandt Social Media LP, owners of a patent by Dutch programmer Joannes Jozef Everardus van Der Meer, who used a button for people to “like” other user’s content in Surfbook, a product that predates Facebook by 5 years. With the lawsuit only filed on February 5th, this has all the hallmarks of an opportunist grab for wealth, but at least superficially, it would seem that Facebook – who have a history of aggressive protection of their corporate identity (as described above) – have a case to answer.

But this irony is only a recent expression of a more troubling and much deeper issue – the same one that recently manifested in the Apple vs Samsung stoush, and before that in the legal battles between Apple and Microsoft. The whole question of whether “look and feel” – in other words the way we do things – should be or can be protected, as opposed to the behind-the-scenes mechanisms or code that translate that action into some action.

Can you trademark human behavior?

Social Networking And Responsibility

Still brewing up is another huge question – that of social networking and responsibility. If I say something on a business’s twitter account, how liable is that business for what I have said in their name? How about if someone else says it and I simply rebroadcast it or like it or whatever the correct usage is for a particular social network?

Are social media comments public or private communications? Especially if you have to specifically opt-in to receive those communications?

If I say something negative on twitter, is it libel? Is it slander?

Can Social Media comments be trademarked or copyrighted?

I am not a US Citizen – are my comments through a US-based system like Twitter, whose licenses and usage are handled under US Law, protected as free speech?

To what extent am I not entitled to state my opinion?

As usual, the law is a decade or more behind the wavefront of technology and social behavior, and most laws are applied through legal confrontations – so this is an issue that is only going to grow over the next decade.

The Regulation Of Human Behavior

Ultimately, all these problems can be summarized as attempts to regulate human behavior. The laws all spell out things that we are not allowed to do, for what at least seemed like good reasons at the time. Corporate entities are using those laws for other purposes, though. They are using trademark, copyright, and patent laws to protect things that should never be trademarked, copyrighted, or patented.

Of course, it’s always easier to extend an existing law to cover something similar. ePublishing is neatly covered by existing laws relating to publishing. This only really goes awry when the potentials of a new storage format or medium create additional capabilities for public usage that were not present at the time the laws were extended. Changing technology is a game-changer.

Treating digital formats as just another medium to present music which could be protected and controlled under existing laws governing usage is what led to the DRM / file-sharing legal wars. So long as you couldn’t do anything more with the digitally-encoded format than you could do with the old technology, those laws worked and were seen as satisfactory. But the new medium brought additional inherent potential usages that were not explicitly dealt with under those laws, and it was those usages that the Recording Industry sought to curtail.

There are analogous arguements to be made regarding all of the other situations cited above. Business laws framed at a time before technological change made the superstores – the Wal-Mart’s and the Amazons – feasible, are inadequate for dealing with the new social reality of their existence. For a time, when the new arrives, the old laws work; but eventually the opportunities provided by the new circumstance evolve beyond the scope of existing laws, at which point the laws become counterproductive to society.

The Purpose Of Copyright

Copyright law was originally intended to foster and encourage creativity, by ensuring that the creator received fair remuneration for their act of creation. It was limited in duration to what was deemed a reasonable period. Specifics vary from country to country, but they all have that common aim.

In effect, owning the copyright gave the creator:

  • The Right to Control what was done with their work;
  • The Right to Profit from their creation, enabling them to continue to create;
  • The Right to develop Derivative Works from their creation, enabling an author to write sequels to his own works.

All these seem utterly reasonable, so where did it all go so wrong?

The Causes

I think there are three direct causes that have collectively led us to this mess over responsibility and control.

Restrictable Rights

In describing the purposes of copyright, I said that the right to control what was done with their work seemed completely reasonable. But I can trace a lot of the problems with copyright as it is compared to its original intention to this one element. Perhaps it would have been better to have stated (in legalese) that once a work existed, you could do anything you wanted with that work provided that you paid the author a reasonable return for the use of their work. Such usage would not constitute an endorsement of the second use by the creator.

Once the original Sherlock Holmes story gets published, anyone is free to write another, so long as they pay a legally-mandated sum to Arthur Conan Doyle. Of course, subsequent works by Doyle – suitably credited as “by the creator of” – would have greater cache and marketability.

If someone wanted to use a particular piece of music as part of the soundtrack to a movie, they can – they simply have to pay for it. If someone wants to make a movie based on a book, they can – under the same condition. If someone wants to write a new song based on an earlier one, they simply have to pay for the use of the old song.

Removing control from the equation ensures that copyright can no longer stifle creativity.

Transfers Of Ownership of intangibles

The second major plank in the current misery comes from the concept of transfer of ownership. If a publisher simply acts as an agent for the creator, acting as a collection point for the revenues owing to the creator of a work and taking their percentage accordingly, there is no difficulty; it is only when the publisher can claim ownership of some form (even if they paid the author a considerable sum for it) that real problems arise, because there arises a potential conflict of interest between the creator and the publisher.

Gene sequences cannot be subject to protection if the principle of transfer of ownership of intangibles is never established – only an original usage of a gene sequence. Look-and-feel issues go away. Ridiculous issues like the trademarking of “book” and the patent of a “like” button become non-starters – because the idea itself is free for anyone to use provided they pay the legally-mandated sum to the original creator, or his estate.

A corporation should never be able to “own” something; at best, they should be holding it in trust for, and administering it on behalf of, their shareholders and customers.

Money as free speech

If the laws are slipshod, or shortsighted, or inadequate, must we not look to the elected officials who created those laws when we assign responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in?

Donating money to a cause may support a cause, but it does not publicize that support, and hence should not be considered free speech. The contrary position permits those with the largest chequebooks to dictate policy, against the public interest, for their own benefit. Equating money to free speech may be viewed as putting your money where your mouth is, but if the mouth is absent, it’s simply a bribe to see things “the corporation’s way”.

The Dynamic Of Responsibility

To see how these causes have led, and are leading, the world into a tar pit, there are three additional factors to contemplate.

Unenforceable Rights Are Non-Existent Rights

If you can’t enforce a right, you may as well not have that right. Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? Your rights are not what the law says they are, they are what the interpreters of that law will enforce. Long court delays and appeals processes favor those with deep pockets, and lawyers are perfectly willing to use the size of their employer’s pockets to intimidate opponents.

Corporations As “People”

A corporation is a magical thing. In some ways it is considered to be a legal “person”, and in others it is not considered to be a person at all. The problem, of course, is drawing the line between these two conditions.

The general principle was established so that corporations could be sued in the same way as individuals, should a transgression be alleged, or vice-versa. Nothing wrong with that.

It’s in some of the other applications of the theory – that a corporation should be able to own things in the same way that a person would, that a corporation has rights in the same way that a person does, that a corporation can donate money to political campaigns as though they were an individual – that provokes greater contention.

We would all be far better off if a corporation was a separately-defined legal entity, with its rights and abilities enumerated completely separately from those of a citizen. Such an explicit statement would remove much of the fuzziness.

The Determinism Of Wealth

The combination of these factors is greater than the sum of their parts. Corporations have financial resources far beyond those of most individuals. They can employ the best lawyers. In theory, politicians are supposed to represent the people, giving them a collective voice and equal say in the way things are done. The real effect of the “Money is free speech” principle is to give corporations a greater voice in politics, in the framing of laws, than the ordinary citizen. With dominance in both politics and the courts, they have near-complete control over what rights can be enforced by the individual. Only when they do something so egregious that the courts cannot tolerate the transgression do they suffer a reversal.

The Brave New World

So, where does all this leave us?

The Lowest Common Denominator

It’s long been my contention that the internet erases much of the national boundaries that have shaped our world. If the US bans an activity, the service can be relocated to another country where it is not illegal. I’ve held this view since the very beginning of the Napster lawsuit. In effect, what is enforceable is the lowest common denominator amongst all the laws of all the countries that are connected through the web.

Technology has modified that position somewhat – China is notorious for filtering what its internet users can access – but only at prohibitive cost in terms of censorship and – according to studies proposing similar filtering software for Australia – in terms of connection speeds (a loss of up to 87%).

Nevertheless, in general terms, the principle holds.

Counterculture Inevitable

With the public at large feeling under assault by corporate interests with political connivance and support in the DRM mess, a counterculture movement was inevitable. Feeding into that counterculture are the availability of cheap second-hand and remaindered products through Amazon which devalue residual value of published material in the minds of customers, who will quite naturally gravitate toward the lowest price they can find – if they get what they are paying for.

Also contributing to that view are the relatively cheap prices of e-books – some available free on Amazon Kindle.

It used to be that all an e-publisher had to worry about were pirated copies showing up on P2P networks – sometimes with malware such as viruses added. The debate was about whether or not reducing prices would act as a disincentive to such activities. These days, the pressure is to maximize the short-term profitability of an e-book, and a little piracy after that period is more trouble to chase down than it is worth.

The Devaluation Of Intellectual Property

Worryingly, though, when you devalue residual worth, you devalue all intellectual property in the eyes of the culture, and especially the counter-culture. People expect books and eBooks to be cheaper, even without economies of scale and with increasing labor costs. It doesn’t take any less time (per page) to write a book, or produce an illustration, but in order to sell, the price has to be reduced. The consequence is that it gets harder for the author to make a living (even at a reduced living standard) from his writing – and that’s a disincentive to write. Authors feel undervalued by the public, and some are even resentful.

The Impact of RPGNow

I wrote a couple of well-received articles last year on the pricing of RPG materials (Part 1 and Part 2). What I didn’t predict in the course of those articles was a new phenomenon that I’m beginning to notice: content written to meet the price point. In part 2 of that series, I divided PDFs into sizes by page count for detailed analysis (and the analysis was a lot more detailed than what saw print, I assure you). Well, the tail is starting to wag the dog, in my opinion. Rather than writing a product and seeing how large it is, people are writing to achieve a given page count – and saving anything that doesn’t fit for a subsequent volume.

Why? Well, if you write a 25-page PDF and break it up into 4 page lots, you would expect to get eight PDFs out of your 20-page work. But, by the time you include front-page and contents and licensing pages, suddenly your four pages is down to a page-and-a-half of valuable content, 2-and-a-half if you’re feeling generous. And that means that you can serialize your 25 pages into 10-16 PDFs. Call it 13. That’s the equivalent of a 62.5% increase in profitability – at the cost of perceived value-for-money. Even if that perceived loss of value costs you 30% lower sales, profits are still up 32.5% – and you still have the option of compiling them into a bigger omnibus edition, and hopefully selling the same content to the same people multiple times.

Spreading the costs thinner and ramping up the effective price both plays into the mindset of reduced value and reinforces it. Will the trend last? Is it all in my head? Time will tell.

Pushbutton Comments

Comments are dying. No, that’s not true – comments to the source of content are dying. This is an unintended development of social media. It’s easier to tweet that you like something, or share it, or like it on facebook. No thought needed.

The pushbutton comment is far more transitory than a comment to the source. After a few days (or less), you have to actively search for it in order to find it. And it contributes less to the discussion, simply because there’s no content-add.

That contributes a lack of lasting feedback to the content provider, reducing their ability to target products to an existing audience. And that means that profitability of products is diminished.

Must Copyright Be Sacrificed?

There aren’t many ways out of the current problems, save struggling with them one at a time. Wholesale reform is not going to happen. Nothing will happen, in any event, until either a crisis flashpoint is achieved, legally or in public opinion, as it was with the Sony Rootkit scandal, or until the US political situation is resolved.

What are the alternatives in the meantime? The harder it gets for authors and publishers to make money writing and publishing, the more of them will stop doing it. Under these conditions, producers will either get aggressive and vitriolic about protecting their intellectual properties, or will simply give up on copyright enforcement beyond taking a few basic precautions, and live with erosion of profitability – or simply stop.

But there are larger legislative issues in the wings, with far-reaching consequences only dimly-observed at the moment.

RPGs and the copyright/publishing tangle

One of the proximate sources of inspiration for this article was a discussion on Linkedin concerning the value of using old works, whose residual value was now minimal, as bonuses and marketing materials. This is a trend that I’ve observed in kickstarter offerings. I offered my two cents worth in that discussion, but that started me thinking about the larger ramifications.

The impact on the RPG industry is this: it’s harder than ever to write RPGs full time and live on the proceeds. That points to an imminent market implosion, something that might only be prevented by am OGL-like explosion in DnDNext-related materials. If DnDNext is the hit that Wizards hope it will be, and if the third-party publisher terms are more reasonable, a new boom could manifest.

In the meantime, there will be a rise in the use of kickstarter as (effectively) a pre-ordering system. It’s not going to be about marketing and distributing a product, it’s going to be earning the money from a kickstarter project to justify putting the time into creating a product in the first place. And there will be a restructuring of products toward smaller items offered through RPGNow and subsequent omnibus collections of proven product who have already paid off most of the creation overheads that amounts to a reduction in the value-for-money quotient.

I still expect Print-on-demand to be the game-changer. With both Amazon and RPGNow getting into the PoD game, the incentive to produce direct-published paper-and-ink products can only diminish. So the future is digital, and will be subject to exactly the same pressures that the music industry has struggled with for the last 20+ years. Hopefully, we’ll learn from their mistakes and not get too heavily into DRM and aggressively strong-arm protection.

RPG production is going to become even more of a part-time hobbyist activity and less professional in standards. Prices will drop. Markets will become more insular, more closely-focused. Small businesses will stop, and will agglomerate. The honorable ones, like Purple Duck, will live up to the promises of the businesses that they absorb. And by virtue of being there, they will be in position to capitalize on the next boom, when it comes.

And we’ll continue to look over our shoulders. We live in paranoid times.

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