When Will People Stop Exploiting Google?
from the time-to-pay-up dept
I assume you’ve been hearing all about how sites like the Huffington Post are exploiting workers like a slave master by having them work for free. It’s all, as Nick Carr has noted, digital sharecropping, as “free” is really all about exploiting others. And, of course, what it comes down to — as Billy Bragg pointed out a few years ago — is about who profits from all of that “free” stuff. According to Jonathan Tasini, that’s “unjust enrichment.”
Since we’ve established all of that, I have to ask the big question that really represents the elephant in the internet room:
You see, I recently read on Kevin Kelly’s site about how Google provides about $500 worth of value to the average searcher. And we got it all for free. But, but, but… you say: we’re paying for that in the advertising we see. Oh, how naive. Why, that’s just like saying that Tasini got paid in exposure (how do you measure that?!?) or that Bragg got paid in getting a free platform to promote his music. Others will point out that Google made the choice to offer its service for free — but, again, that applies to the people screaming about being “exploited” by Arianna Huffington as well. Then, of course, some will say that those situations are different because they involved companies cashing out. Yet, according to the Kevin Kelly piece, there’s approximately $65 billion in consumer surplus from Google that the company is not capturing. $65 Billion. How can the company possibly go on knowing that the public has made so much money off of its hard work?
So, all of you using Google without paying your $500 directly to Google, when will you stop exploiting that poor company?
Okay, got that out of the system. A bit more seriously, you really should read the Kevin Kelly article which combines a few different studies to determine how much Google is worth to users. The really key point in all of this is the pure economic growth created by this. It’s not in Google’s bottom line (though, that’s part of it), but in the massive consumer surplus created by tools like Google that allow people to do things they simply couldn’t do before and do other things much more efficiently. If you understand how economic growth works, this is a perfect example. What are sometimes called “spillover effects” or “consumer surplus” is really economic growth in action. It’s when the sum is greater than the parts, and that value can be more widely distributed. This is a good thing, and it would be nice if people stopped getting confused by “free” and thinking that it means an economic disaster, rather than an economic multiplier, as it often is…
In terms of the specifics, this also really does a nice job of demonstrating the difference between price and value. The technical “price” of using Google is free, but we value it a lot more than that. Google offering up search for free doesn’t “devalue” search, as some suggest. It does the opposite. It creates more value. Kelly asks what would happen if Google decided to try to “capture” that excess value by charging. I’m sure a ton of people would pay. But, really, the question is would that be sustainable? The second Google did something like that, you could bet that Microsoft would suddenly jump to being the number one search engine, and it would open up all sorts of opportunities for new upstarts trying to enter the market. And, really, that’s the key point we keep making. Certain things can’t really succeed at a long-term price over zero, because the competition will just eat them alive. But, a la Google, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of money to be made. You just have to figure out what to charge for. There’s no exploitation going on here. Just economics.