Amazon's Rising Tide
Booksquare Strikes a Nerve...In a Good Way

The Power (and Future) of Free

Free I've been meaning to write a follow-up post to John Caddell's well thought-out article called Must We Give away Digital Creative Works? but I wanted to let it sink in a bit longer.  I think I'm ready now, and I think the best approach is to take excerpts (italicized) and insert my thoughts:

...creative artists will have to make their money from "ancillary" projects, such as touring, personal appearances, licensing, etc.

I think this has been happening for a long time in the book publishing world.  How many full-time authors do you know?  Does writing provide 100% of their income, or even the majority of it?  If so, you know someone in the minority.  Most of the authors I know use writing as a way to get consulting gigs, speaking engagements and other jobs that generally produce more income than their books.

...if creating a work of art cannot in itself make money, it will then be difficult to invest much in that creation.

True, to some extent, but I'm not convinced it's this black and white.  There are quite a few bloggers out there, for example, who earn nothing for their efforts.  And yes, for many of them, that's precisely the value of the content they produce.  But, how about the truly good ones?  The ones where the passion is oozing out of every post?  Will they continue indefinitely even if they don't make a nickel from their work?  Probably not.  But what if that blog helps them get discovered and results in the consulting, speaking and other money-earning endeavors noted above?

If the world immediately and exclusively switched to this model it would be insanely disruptive, no doubt.  But what if we evolved to it over the course of a few years?  Most people spewing worthless content in search of a quick buck would abandon the blogosphere pretty quickly, leaving only those with passion and appreciation for the new model.  Would that be such a bad thing?

...it doesn't bode well for musicians or moviemakers, and, soon, book authors.

If this were true I think it would bring an end to garage bands and self-published authors.  I would argue that new technologies and operations like AuthorHouse and Lulu are only helping to expand the base of musians, moviemakers and book authors.  Do these new writers and creators need to look at the opportunity differently than musicians/moviemakers/book authors of 10 years ago?  You bet.  Although they'd all love to be the next Stephen King, my guess is most self-published authors these days are pretty happy just getting their work into print, especially if they were previously rejected by one or more "big publishers".  Those expectations might change over time, but I think the future for content creators is incredibly bright and the barriers to entry have never been lower.

If a band can make money touring but not through selling CDs, they will be unlikely to spend much time in the recording studio, or to spend money on studio effects or gear.

But what's going to drive excitement for next year's tour?  I don't think very many bands would be successful traveling the country and playing the same songs every year, with nothing new to add to the mix.  New songs are a key ingredient in this formula, so I have a hard time believing bands could continue milking the old stuff forever; this would exclude the top 3 or 4 groups like The Who and The Rolling Stones who apparently have at least another 30 or 40 years left in their '70's hits.

I think we're in the midst of a transformation.  Five or ten years from now, creative types will be quite comfortable giving away even more of their content than ever before.  New models will emerge that make today's sponsorships and ancillary opportunities look tiny by comparison.  There will still be the Stephen King's of the world, but more of them will have their roots in self-publishing, which means they may never have broken through in the old system.  Shouldn't we consider all that a good thing?

Comments

hyokon

I think the current 'free or not' discussion is not framed well. The critical issue is 'should content be forced to be free'. Forcing contents to be free can happen in different ways. I don't think any government in the world would regulate the price to be free. But a more likely scenario is not fighting against copyright infringement.

I think it should be free (a different free) for the creators either to attach a $100 price tag or to distribute a content for free. Then they will decide which will work for them best.

I actually think that this issue has to do with the very foundation of capitalism. See my post, "Wrong - Paul Krugman, Chris Anderson, Lawrence Lessig, Mike Arrington. Contents should not always be free."

Anthony S. Policastro

Hi Joe,
Your comments remind me of Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. Self creation and self publishing are booming and I agree that the people passionate about their work won't mind giving it away - they are thrilled that it's there and someone will take it.
I currently offer my novel, Absence of Faith as a free eBook on Lulu.com at http://www.lulu.com/content/368044 hoping people will like it enough and buy the paperback version. If they don't that's Ok too because my work is getting exposure. Maybe, they will like this book and buy my next one coming out soon. In any event, I'm thrilled to offer my work for free hoping that people will like my work enough to become a loyal fan and if nothing else enjoy my book.

Joe Wikert

Hi Anthony. I think it's smart of you to offer your e-version for free. I tend to believe novels and non-reference works are the best candidate for this sort of thing since it seems unlikely that most people will try to read the whole work on a screen. Quite a few will like what they read, tire of the on-screen experience and buy the print edition. I hope more authors and publishers will share their results with the community as they enable more free e-content.

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