So let us examine the existing world infrastructure. Capitalism is based on the laws of Supply and Demand; when supply of a commodity (whether it be a good or a service) goes up, then the price goes down. When the demand of a commodity goes up, so does the price.
Rather than put you through all my ranting about how unfair this system is to those who are disadvantaged, let me shed some light on an impending implosion of the system: Digital Media.
Within the past 10 years we have seen the arrival of digital media; technology that allows us to store images, video, text, audio, and so on. Pretty much anything "intellectual" can be represented in digital format. This is great, and terrible at the very same time. Digital media has an inherently infinite supply, therefore making its perceived value in a market economy exactly 0. Great for consumers, terrible for artists.
The existing media infrastructure realises this, and does not want to face its inevitable destruction. They are doing everything in their power to stop the copyability of digital media, but in the end it's going to fail. Digital media by its very nature cannot be constrained to a limited supply, and any attempts to alter this behaviour will ultimately end up hurting consumers in the end.
For example, DRM music files restrict you far moreso than buying a CD does. You are allowed to listen to the music on one place, and one place only: your computer. "Old School" technology, such as CD's, allow you to take your CD and listen to it anywhere you want. Your Stereo, your Computer, your Car, your friends house, in a discman, or anywhere you want. A DRM'ed music file takes away all those options.
Consumers will not buy this. They will not pay MORE for a product that is even less usable than they are used to.
The media corporations are an anomoly, selling an anachronism. Before records came along, composers and musicians made their money by playing live shows, from the artist to the consumer. No middleman involved. The record companies came along and now sell a physical product: the record that the music is stored on. At first this allowed musicians to gain a greater market, since they could now "play" shows to millions of people at any time, rather than to merely hundreds per night (until they became exhausted from playing). But now that the service that these companies have provided in the past is now extinct (mainly: a distribution venue) due to the internet, the companies themselves now have no purpose.
The age of selling a CD, a Book, a Computer Game Box, etc, are over. We no longer need the publishers. However, how does one put a value on the art produced by said artists?
This in itself is a very difficult question to answer. As it stands now, artists produce "goods", in the form of the actual CD/DVD/Disc you purchase in a store, but this view is just simply outdated. Artists produce a service, not a good. That CD you buy isn't worth anything, but rather the contents on it, the service.
I have a simple solution: Work by Public Contract. In such a system, I make a contract with the public at large: if you pay me a certain amount of money, I will release my service to the world, freely distributable by anyone to anyone.
Here's an example. I am currently writing a simple serial fiction novel entitled "The Ancients". The details of this piece are not important at the moment, but I plan on releasing it via my WbPC system. I will release the first chapter for free, as a sample to the entire world.
I will set up a paypal account for donations, and when I receive a certain amount of money (I have not worked out the logistics of this yet, so the amount is not known at this time, though I think $250-500 per chapter seems reasonable, depending on chapter size, of course), then I will release the second chapter to the world at large, freely distributable by anyone to anyone. The process will continue; every time I reach a new threshold, I will release a new chapter.
You, the public at large, are contracting me to write a book. No middlemen, no bullshit, nothing. If I do not receive enough money to break through a threshold, the part will not be released and you will not receive a refund.
The system has a few safeguards built in. The initial free chapter gives you a taste of the piece of art, to give you an overall feeling of its direction. Since the art is released piece-by-piece, you, the consumer, gets a sense of satisfaction. Rather than paying $10 and waiting a year to see if I write the whole book, you can pay $1 and will get pieces released periodically, letting you know that I am working on it. If you don't like the direction the book is heading, you don't have to pay anything more. If others do like it, then they'll pay and the book will be released regardless.
Does this seem a little unfair? Maybe. You are essentially paying for something before it is even written, so you don't know how good it will be. Like all of life, that's a risk that is unavoidable. When you buy a CD, you usually don't know if 90% of the songs that haven't been played on the radio don't suck, right?
What about those who didn't pay me anything at all? Why should they reap the benefits of the service as well, since they haven't payed? You don't have to pay me a lot of money; in fact there are 7 billion people on this planet, so I don't think it's going to be a problem finding a few hundred or so willing to pay just a dollar to me. It's not like you're making an incredibly large investment. How many times have you lost a dollar bill and not thought about it?
As an added incentive, though, to those who pay, I shall be thinking of a rewards system. Perhaps the top 15 donators per threshold will be publicly thanked at the top of each chapter, forever immortalized as a patron of my skills. I have other ideas as well.
Will this system work? It will; there's simply no other way for the old system to continue. Will artists be payed less than usual under the new system? Probably. This can only be a good thing, however, since it gets rid of everyone who became an artist for the wrong reasons in the first place (ie: money).
Can this system be applied to other mediums? Of course, I don't see why not. Music can be released on a song-by-song basis, computer games can be released level-by-level, and so on.
I have high hopes for this system, and I hope it will become embraced widely in the future. I'll post details about "The Ancients" and an actual contract sometime in the future.