3D Printing

Manufacturers, Sell Your 3D Printable Files Before You Lose Them to Napster!

Gartner has predicted that 3D printing will have quite the disruptive effect on IP, saying, “The global automotive aftermarket parts, toy, IT and consumer product industries will report intellectual property theft worth at least $15 billion in 2016 due to 3D printing.” Indeed, IP law is on the minds of many people, when they consider the possibilities of 3D scanning and printing proprietary objects. If the emerging 3D printing revolution causes a Napster-like effect on the world of physical goods, how are IP holders to deal with the potential theft of their stuff?

One way to anticipate this possible future is to start selling data, instead of physical things. That’s what Chris Thorpe, of 3D scanning and printing company Flexiscale, thinks should happen. According to Securing Industry, Thorpe addressed an audience recently at the IP-Protect Expo in London, telling branded product manufacturers, “Many of you have content that is physical, that is 3D and came from CAD. I urge you to sell it as digital files, as this will reduce piracy.

Thorpe argued that, due to streaming services like Netflix, online piracy of movies and TV shows “has gone down dramatically“. Though I’m having trouble finding studies to back up his claim, the Chief Content Officer of Netflix and my intuition agree with him. CCO Ted Sarandos has said, “When we launch in a territory, the Bittorrent traffic drops as the Netflix traffic grows.” So, just as iTunes took advantage of digital content and Spotify sells streaming subscriptions, Thorpe believes that manufacturers should embrace the digital revolution of physical goods.

There may always be a few bad apples that continue to exploit the digital stream, but Thorpe may be right in saying that, “Piracy does not happen because people are naturally bad. It happens because people can’t buy what they want, because companies won’t sell it to them.” As monetarily free as online piracy might be, I have a gut feeling that people will be willing to pay a small price to alleviate guilt and to support the products they truly love.

This is clearly a subjective guess, but, as far as Louis CK, Radiohead, and Amanda Palmer are concerned, low cost digital sales have been a huge success. Radiohead was the first (or, at least, most famous) to experiment with the model of low cost digital sales, launching the album In Rainbows online using a pay-what-you-want price scheme in which customers could purchase the album for as low as £0. Despite the ability for listeners to pay nothing for In Rainbows, the band’s lead singer, Thom Yorke, said, “In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever — in terms of anything on the Net. And that’s nuts.” Louis CK’s Live at the Beacon Theater was priced at only $5 on the comedian’s website and exceeded $1 million in sales after just 12 days. Amanda Palmer, feminist queen of the Dresden Dolls, scored almost $1.2 million on Kickstarter to pay for an album, art book, and tour.

All of these examples testify to the crowd’s willingness to pay for goods, as long as they’re highly desired and relatively cheap. This should be welcome news to digital designers who might be better off, on a day when product designers are as popular as comedians and musicians, selling their designs as CAD files to the public directly. Then again, that day may never come.

A shift to the digital world may be off putting to many manufacturers, especially when considering subscription or download fees in the single digits, but the decrease in profits will be offset by a decrease in manufacturing costs. Manufacturers can shift resources from production to design (after all, they were paying their factory workers pennies anyway). And, with the ability to print out replacement parts, companies will save money on the rent spent on huge warehouses, as Securing Industry points out. Consequently, we’ll save space by reducing the number of factories on the planet. Sounds good, to me. (Of course, to compensate for the loss of manufacturing jobs, we’ll likely need a complete restructuring of the way resources are distributed throughout society and improved education and training programs for the lower and middle classes, a topic that is much too big to go into here. I’m an Aquarius, so you’ll just have to trust my powers of divinity when I say that that’s the direction we’re heading in.)

In other words, I happen to agree with Thorpe. When our next smartphones have 3D scanners on them that can seamlessly make a physical copy via 3D printing, the whole manufacturing infrastructure is bound to collapse. Why not prepare for it now?

I know I’ve said some inflammatory things, so feel free to argue about it in the comments.

Source: Securing Industry

Feature Image Source: user serratiago on Thingiverse