The Debate Is Not Free vs. Paid

from the that's-over dept

Michael Scott points us to a column by Shelly Palmer that clearly articulates a point I’ve tried to make in the past, but haven’t been able to make that clearly: arguing “free vs. paid” is the wrong debate. Professional content is always paid for somehow — it’s just a question of how. In some cases it’s a third party paying. In some cases it’s a user paying. And, in some cases, it’s a user paying not with money, but with something else, like time or attention, which helps give a third party the reason to pay:

Can you frame this conversation as free vs. paid? No. Not if you are trying to get someone to pay you cash directly for something that is ubiquitously available for free. Free vs. Paid is not the great debate, it’s a no-brainer — free wins! Valueless vs Valuable, Scarce vs Ubiquitous, Demanding of attention vs Commanding of attention are the debates and the winners will be the individuals and organizations that can most effectively translate the value of content into wealth.

Exactly. This is why the focus on “free” is almost always misplaced. People stop thinking once they hit that big oval zero — and forget that free is simply a part of a larger business model, which is often about bringing in a larger audience that gives other reasons to pay.

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Comments on “The Debate Is Not Free vs. Paid”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s a few things wrong with that promotion. First of all, Adam should probably be the face for a different product, like Apple’s next upcoming computer operating system refresh called Mac OSX Snow Cougar. Which actually is little more than this the 20 year anniversary mac.

Secondly, there should be a better view of what a target demographic is and something tells me that Adam just isn’t a details type person.

Fail on two accounts. Exactly, indeed.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Free as in speech not as in beer

Having freedom to share and build upon published works does not mean that artists must work for nothing.

It means that publishers can no longer expect to sell copies at monopoly protected prices if people assert their natural right to make copies and derivatives of their own.

Copies costing nothing to make is completely different to art costing nothing to make.

If your business is producing copies your monopoly has ended, so you’re going to have to add value.

If your business is producing art, it’s business as usual.

The market for art is as strong as it’s ever been, but the artist’s customer is no longer the producer of copies, but their audience.

Admittedly there are some misguided artists who think that means they must now sell copies directly to their audience. Nope, the artist must sell their art to their audience, just as they previously sold it to a publisher.

The market for copies has ended. The market for intellectual work continues.

Anonymous Coward says:

The market for copies has ended. The market for intellectual work continues.

So what you are saying is that you will pay a writer or musician’s full year salary so you can enjoy their latest work?

The market of copies isn’t just about the copies, it’s the distribution of costs over a larger group. It’s a toll bridge, where each person pays a very little bit of the cost of the bridge but enjoys it’s full use (but they cannot resell it). Nobody would be able to pay for a bridge alone.

Free is the easiest marketing scheme in the world, one that eliminates almost all possible customer “no” answers, because you remove all the issues. But no matter what, free in this manner comes back to give it away and pray. Give away your music, pray more people come to your concerts or buy t-shirts. Give away your book, hope you get… wait, what exactly would an author get? Nothing. they write books.


:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Hello Coward!

First; welcome to the internet.

I see you have an inability to process complex logical information information…

Allow me to present the requisite concept couched in a single sentence:

Abundance (a distributing/supply cost of nigh zero) creates different and additional scarcities; upon which different and additional business concepts can be founded.

And; an additional needed concept: Heinlein said it best (to paraphrase again) “Writing is a nasty habit to get into; it becomes a monkey on your back. Eventually a writer has a need to write.” Or more specifically; an artist has a need to create art–it’s not for the money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Abundance (a distributing/supply cost of nigh zero) creates different and additional scarcities; upon which different and additional business concepts can be founded

Okay, so you being the smart dude that you are, would you care to explain how a writer would make a living if his books, articles, and all his work product were available for free?

Don’t say “autographed books”, as that is an artificial market that would collapse if enough autographs were put out there. It’s special today only because most authors don’t do much. Would you be willing to pay $100 at a book signing to get an autograph? Wait, there are no book signings, because there are no books! HA! Market eliminated.

So? Where’s the money for a writer?

SteelWolf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Good grief, do we really have to go over this every single time?

-Cory Doctorow releases his books for free online. This builds up a lot of interest in his books and many people end up buying them (or buying his latest as soon as it comes out), as evidenced by his sales. By releasing his books for free, volunteers are able to translate the book into whatever language they wish, spreading his fan base across far more than the English-speaking world. He gets money to do book readings and for speaking engagements.

-Neil Gaiman has American Gods online for free, and he and other authors have seen interest in both the specific book and themselves as artists increase.

-Autographed books are not about resale value, they’re about personal value. Neil Gaiman will sign a personal message in a book to any of his fans – of course, doing this involves them buying the book. Now the fan (who may have originally read the book online) has a small personal connection to their favorite author.

It’s the “divide by zero” thinking again. If people would just stop panicking and start thinking of innovative ways to do business they’d be making money instead of losing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

How many times do I have to repeat it? If books are entirely digital and free, there will be no books to buy. Don’t you get it? No hard copies, no transactions, no money.

In order for Doctorow to make a living, he can’t just be a great writer, he now has to be a performance artist who has to STOP WRITING to go on the road and “present” his writings. it seems like rather a whole bunch of opportunity cost waste, no?

It isn’t panicking or having a divide by zero error. It’s back to basic economics. If you have a product and you give it away, where is the money? You have to think to the logical conclusions of what a lack of money will do to the current system. Do you think there will still be book stores, magazine stores, or even hard copies of books? I would say it would be doubtful. The costs of producing hardcopy books is just wasteful in this infinite society.

So think about it before you say anything, because the one change you are supporting “free stuff” has massive implications on down the line, and can even hurt the supposed scarce goods that are suppose to pay the bills.

Brian says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

For me, I prefer reading hard copies of books. I imagine a lot of other folks do too.

You say an author going out on the road to connect with fans is a bad thing? Do they deserve to get paid for the rest of their life for something they wrote years ago?

I don’t get paid forever for the shell script I wrote last year, why should artists or authors, etc be any different?

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

How many times do I have to repeat it? If books are entirely digital and free, there will be no books to buy. Don’t you get it? No hard copies, no transactions, no money.

That is quite a slippery slope argument you make there. Let’s just clarify the steps in that argument you made:
– Step 1: Digital, free copies= No paid digital copies and no hard copies.
Well, this is just foolishness. Tons of books are available digitally(paid and free) and also available in Hardcopy. Tor (Science fiction publisher) recently started releasing digital copies of many of their books for free. After downloading and reading about 10 of them I ended up purchasing about 5 of them in hard copy.
– Step 2: No hard copies = No Money
Once again, foolishness. There are many ways they can make money other than selling hard copies.

So your entire argument is based on these two steps. The first step is completely wrong, and even if is was right your second step is also completely wrong

I suppose you never learned that the slippery slope argument is always a weak argument to make.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Sorry, but Doc, you are basing your view of the future on what you see today. Widespread digital distribution of books is not a large scale reality today, but it will likely be so in the very near future. Between Google’s digitizing and other services, plus the ingenious people who pirate everything else that isn’t nailed down, it is likely that every book in the world will be available online or in digital format soon enough, and more than likely for free.

It leaves little desire for publishers to actually print books, as they will be less and less in demand, while the costs to setup to print will remain the same.

If most people are buying or “borrowing” digital books, there will be less need for actual physical book stores, which in turns lessens the demand for actual printed books.

In the same manner that newspapers are a “buggy whip” business, books are a “buggy wheel” business, with about the same apparent expiry date.

So for step 1, once there is enough digital material, it is only a moment before it is all freely available, and thus no need to pay. It certainly makes hard copy boobs at best a quaint thing that a few people will still want for their snobbish collections.

Thus for step 2, once the money is gone, what is next? When you say “There are many ways they can make money other than selling hard copies. “, would you care to enlighten us?

You have to think past today.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Wait AC, you’re saying that there’s more to doing something professionally than just doing the same things that an amateur would do in the same field?

Like the way a professional writer already has to actually meet their publisher’s deadlines, go on book tours and, well, generally be professional about things rather than just writing when they feel like it?

Professional art creation has *never* been just about the art – that’s an outright lie peddled by the current crop of publishers and other professional middlemen that saw an opportunity to make a great deal of money at the artists’ expense.

The next generation of professional middlemen (such as Topspin and Nettwerk on the music side and the foresighted folks at Baen on the publishing side) recognise that the disintermediating effects of the internet are placing the artists and their intermediaries in direct competition with each other. So new deals are going to have to be worked out that are much fairer to the artist.

Exactly where the money will come from in a world where pay-per-copy is an obsolete model is something people are still figuring out, but strident cries of “OMG, there will be no more art unless we make copying illegal” demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding of human psychology (or, more likely, a vested interest in maintaining the status quo).

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: (AC still hasn't learned to use the subject field)

Okay, so you being the smart dude that you are, would you care to explain how a writer would make a living if his books, articles, and all his work product were available for free?

You visit here every day yet you apparently never understand what is being said. It’s not about “give it away and pray” as you keep saying, and Mike has said numerous times that he doesn’t like “give it away and pray”. It’s about using the infinitely copyable digital goods to promote and sell more scarce goods.

Your example of an author was perfectly illustrated in a number of recent articles here: Swedish author Unni Drougge posted free torrents of her Audio Book, and very quickly her Audio book jumped to the top of the paid audio book list. See that? She gave the Audio Book away for free, and sold more of the exact Audio book that she was giving away. link to techdirt article, Link to additional article
Another example is Peter Cooper, author of Begining Ruby. He advocates giving away his eBook in order to sell more copies of the physical book. Link to techdirt article, link to additional article

That’s just two examples but there are lots of others, and authors make money in numerous ways (Consultations, public appearances, books, movie adaptation rights, even autographed copies). See? It’s not about completely giving everything away and hoping people pay. It’s about giving away the infinitely copyable goods in order to promote the scarce ones.

This has been repeated here many, many times here, yet you seem to keep misunderstanding and saying that Techdirt and the Techdirt community just want everything for free. That is not what’s being argued at all.

Also, you really should learn to use the subject field in your posts.

Shvegas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Seems to me like that problem would be solved by writers and customers not the government creating an artificial market. Maybe writers in the future will be motivated by something other than profit. Maybe writers will figure out how to get rich with unlimited free copies of content on the internet. Let them figure it out. What is the worst thing that could happen finding out?

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Okay, so you being the smart dude that you are, would you care to explain how a writer would make a living if his books, articles, and all his work product were available for free?

1: How many ebooks do you own? Something tells me that many, many people are still, and probably always will, prefer a real dead-tree book to an e-book. No one has every said that dead-tree books should be free– they cost money to reproduce, after all. Now, an e-book, on the other hand, cost nothing to reproduce, yet is often sold at eerily close to the cost of a dead-tree book. (Hardcover price, no less!) How does that make sense?

2: How much does it cost for a writer to write his first book? He clearly hasn’t gotten paid for that first book, as it hasn’t been published yet. How are books *ever* written, if they cost so damn much to make? The way you talk, the writer needs a lot of money to write, else he couldn’t, but clearly he could at least once, right? Explain.

3: Autographed books. Despite what you think, some fans don’t want them for ebay value or because they are rare, they want them (and will pay for them) because it is one way to **Connect** to the artist. (Re: The ‘C’ in CwF + RtB) Especially if the signing is done in person.

4: Try selling ice sculptures without a day job. Not all forms of art are self sustaining, and it may be (though I doubt it) that fiction writing may end up there. Shit happens. Real artists will do it anyway.

I hope this clears up your confusion, my friend.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So what you are saying is that you will pay a writer or musician’s full year salary so you can enjoy their latest work?

Yes, me and the rest of the interested audience, though more likely on a per work basis rather than a per annum one.

Who else do you think has been paying publishers a 10,000% mark-up?

If an audience of 10,000 each pay a publisher $10 for a copy that the publisher pays the artist a royalty of 10¢ for, what happens if you cut out the publisher? The artist either needs only 10¢ from each member of their audience, or $10 from only 1% of it.

Having paid the artist for their work I’ll make my own copies. It’s time producers of copies competed in a free market. Given their 10,000% mark-ups it’s not surprising it’s actually the publisher who’s squawking, and the artist who’s realised things aren’t quite as bad as the publisher has tried to kid them. The artist still has their market, their audience. The publisher has no market, well, at least not one that will tolerate monopoly inflated prices.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the writer was only getting 10 cents, you would have something.

Out of that $10, don’t forget things like production costs, transport, stocking the shelves, keeping the lights on in your local book store, the staff, the credit card processing fees, the stocking, the tracking, the editing, the art work… it goes on.

It isn’t like the book profits $9.90 for the book company and 10 cents for the author.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m talking about paying the author for their work. The author is the one whose work the state has granted a reproduction monopoly over, and that’s the fundamental issue here, not the costs of reproducing, distributing and retailing paperback versions of it.

If anyone reckons they can add value to an author’s work (paid for by their audience) and sell it (possibly at a profit) then they should be welcome to it, e.g. WikiTravelPress printing books from WikiTravel.

If we pay the author their dues for their intellectual work, then it’s a free market for anyone else to print it, whether in softback or hardback. No-one needs a monopoly. No-one ever has, but they’re very lucrative if you can get them.

The problem with copyright is that it is no longer an effective monopoly, so it’s not even lucrative. You can only look forward to a smug feeling when you bankrupt each random family for infringing it.

kyle clements (profile) says:

Authors do have it tougher than musicians, I think. But they are not without options.

The author could do public readings from his book, there could be a nominal cover charge to hear the author speak, but admission is free with a copy of the authors book. (reason to buy?)

a tiered approach.
free PDFs/audiobooks for casual fans
really nice leather-bound hardcovers for book lovers

releasing only the 1st 1/4 of the book for free on-line, if fans want the rest, they gotta buy it.

record an abridged audiobook and distribute it freely, making sure the audience knows that if they want the real thing, buy the hardcover.

I’m sure there are much better ideas out there, but it’s the authors responsability to come up with something that appeals to their own, unique audience.

If a creator or publisher clings to the old way of doing something well after a much better way has been introduced, they deserve to fail.
It’s called ‘the free market’

SteelWolf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well said Kyle. You also touched on something I think is very important – the need for the artist to tailor their reasons to buy to their specific audience. It’s all part of the new ability to connect directly with fans. It’s now simple to figure out what kinds of unique things your fans would pay for, and sell that directly to them – all while allowing the digital copies of your work to roam the internet for free.

Joe says:

I disagree...

“Can you frame this conversation as free vs. paid? No. Not if you are trying to get someone to pay you cash directly for something that is ubiquitously available for free.”

umm – like bottled water?

This statement, sounds quite appealing, but is incorrect. The free option does not ‘win’. The two co-exist and the paid option does quite well thank you. It just a matter of finding the right selling points that people are willing to pay for.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: I disagree...

i don’t know about you, but around here we have bottled water, and the water that comes out of the tap is Very good [if memory serves, it’s actually the same water in at least some instances.]

people here don’t actually buy the bottled water for the water, mostly.

they buy it for the fact that it comes in some of the best drink bottles you can get here 😀

the bottled water comes with those sipper tops, and they seal well. they have to to meet health requirements for their contents, i think. the drink bottles you buy specifically for purpose come empty, and almost always end up leaking. why? i do not know.

so, from the customer’s point of view, you buy a high quality drink bottle and get free water 🙂 they do co-exist, but… the water kinda fails to be the product from the customer’s point of view.

not sure exactly what that does to anyone’s argument, but there you go.

chris (profile) says:

Re: I disagree...

“Can you frame this conversation as free vs. paid? No. Not if you are trying to get someone to pay you cash directly for something that is ubiquitously available for free.”

umm – like bottled water?

there are a lot of things that you are buying with bottled water, like convenience, and in places with questionable water tables (like mexico) you are buying purity. people feel they can trust a brand, so peace of mind also comes into play.

so too with infinite goods, convenience is a salable commodity, so too is purity in some respects. yes i can get an ebook, or a song, or whatever i want from bit torrent, if i know what i am looking for and want to take the time to look for it. if i download my copy direct from the author (where the author gets click info for advertising and market research purposes) i get convenience and peace of mind.

high def/fidelity prints/recordings on physical media are a form of purity that some people will value and pay for. not every one, but the physical types with high standards. merchandise can also be sold, like large, high quality prints of cover art.

Anonymous Coward says:

slightly more than two cents

Just a short note
I might point out that the earliest published video games were ironically the most advanced publishing model that the industry ever saw. years ago when the adventure games ruled the roost games were a very new media and thus very untried the publishers had no idea of what people were willing to buy so they attached as many goods to the sale of their games as they could get away with old games came with paraphernalia ephemera stuff call it what you will the cloth maps and pewter figurines that came with the fist games were a reason to buy them in themselves if I got an A2 sized cloth map of the galaxy with Mass Effect 2 i might not feel so cheated being asked to cough up $100 AUD on release day.
Games of old also used to come with little or no content protection and it never hurt their revenue stream time and time again ultra high powered anti-piracy root-kit enabling CPU molesting ram hogging DRM kits have been neatly sliced out of games by scene groups and released with a simple DRM disabled exe thus aborting the argument that DRM can protect games.

I digress the point of whether free content can co-exist simultaneously to good old traditional capitalist paid content is difficult, naturally every change to a market is a bad one for someone, capitalism works essentially on the system of someone wins a lot of people lose and the rest do ok. since the mp3 has apparently crushed the music industry (so much so that they can barely afford to take people to court any more the poor souls) artists have started to look to a different sales model such as t-shirts and concert tickets admittedly the bands taking this model aren’t making quite as much as bands of the previous economic model such as Metallica but I think only being able to afford one diamond studded swimming pool is enough for musicians.
Authors are in more of a pickle as I cant see many people wearing JRR Tolkien t-shirts or rocking out at a book reading…er concert type thing…? However there is a grand market in hardcover books I for one would like to see leather bound tomes come back. The ebook has crushed the paperback market beneath its digital sole since it only existed to provide a bare bones content platform the intellectual content (the thought of calling Mills and Boons intellectual content stretches the word to the limits of its implementation and brings no end of dirty smirks) but for the collector who wants the book for his/her private library less of the content than for the value of having it as part of a collection, (like people who buy a brief history of time because of its academic snobbery value rather than deriving a revelation about space and time by actually reading the dammed thing) but its possible for an author to continue to thrive even in these tumultuous digital times granted that without the revenue of the paperback the author will notice a slimming of their back pocket but if they don’t try to get signed on with penguin and release their next mediocre seller as an ebook for $1 a copy the first 10,000 should pay for the cost of writing the damn thing after that if they become an “instant classic” (as though anything new could be classic) then they could look at limited press leather bound signed copies with a pair of their underwear (or whatever their fans are desperate to get their hands on) inside hell even if they only garner a cult following like most SIFI and high fantasy authors they will still make enough to cover their costs with a limited print of X hundred hardcover leather bound books. .
So that’s music artists, game studios and book authors covered how about the loudest howlers the movie industry I cant watch a film any more without being hit with about three five minute segments on how piracy is:
A) Illegal
B) Immoral
C) Destroying the industry
D) Likely go make me go blind get hairy palms and shoot blanks
I hate these ads and I would pirate films simply to not have to sit though the propaganda if I added up all the time I have had stolen by these leeches telling me that they are going broke because of the cruel pirates redistributing their hard work for free I could have written a book by now and be suing someone for not paying for it! I digress I don’t honestly see a premium market for movies there is nothing that they can offer with their DVD that I could want maybe a scale model from Battle Star Galactica your own world jumping portal with every copy of Star Gate perhaps movies should try their hand at advertising instead of Frodo and Sam being given elf bread they could have been gifted with a pack of Oreo’s or something I’m not too sure how the hardcore fan base would take it to see Luke Skywalker swinging an Easton baseball bat, but I don’t think it could have damaged the saga any more than Jarjar Binks did.

For those that feel the above is a case of tldr
Digital content is effectively free to duplicate (sure it has a cost in wear & tear on the hard drive and various components required to make one into two but this cost could be represented in fractions of a Zimbabwe dollar) and thus should be treated as such but products, actual physical products will always have a market a premium market that relies on people with money to burn lawyers doctors accountants porn stars these people will pay exorbitant costs for things because they make enough to squander it thus, poor people like Walmart greeters will never be able to throw money around like the afore mentioned super rich twats and its unfair to produce a one size fits all market for music like has existed for the past 30 years capitalism traditionally means market driven the market is tired of paying $30 a piece for music CD’s especially since the market heard vicious rumors about how recording and producing music actually costs very very small fractions of the return that the producing companies rake in.

Anonymous Coward says:

recently a game called world of goo was released without content protection, in a quick check of registering ip’s far more ip addresses supbmitted high scores to the database than were registered as purchasing a copy of the product in fact only 10% of IP addresses in the high score database had registered sales attached to them…still despite this world of goo made a profit recouped the invested time and capital and proved the release and pray model can work even for indy developers. you will never get rich on this model but as an artist you can get by.

prateekdubey (profile) says:

Middle path, anyone?

somehow free vs paid arguments always tend to revolve around content like books and music but it relates to other stuff too – online software, for instance.

Diclosure: I work for project management tool called Remindo that is free to use for anyone that gives us feedback and bug reports. We have to constantly balance out free users (valuable in terms of intellectual input) and paid users (valuable in terms of paying our bills!). This is a flavor of freemium and definitely not give away and pray!

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