The Trouble with "Free"
People can only expect "free" content for so long before nobody wishes to create anything due to lack of incentive.
"Jason," Gosford, Australia -- commenter on an Andrew Keen article
How many blogs do you read? How many podcasts do you listen to / watch?
Would you consume the same amount of web content if it WASN'T free?
Most of the web world is betting "no," which is why so much remains free. But for the people who ARE producing work that, under traditional circumstances (and in traditional media) WOULD be considered "market-worthy," the question remains: how do we monetize?
We created the internet under the guise that all content should be free. Then we bemoan the fact that, since we CAN create market-worthy work there, we SHOULD be paid for it.
People expect ads on TV and radio because they were ALWAYS there, to ensure the media was delivered for free. Conversely, they expect NO ADS in films because they already paid at the door. (So, when theaters started showing ads, audiences were right to complain.)
People expect everything on the internet to be free, OR TO BE A GATEWAY to something ELSE that costs money.
So how do we, who are creating free content (blogs, audio, video, animation, photos, communities, ideas, experiences) get PAID for what we're doing?
The John C Havens / Eric Rice Method: "Charge SOMETHING"
On a recent interview with About.com's John C Havens, he and I debated the merits of EVERYONE charging SOMETHING, so the world would come to understand that the internet was a viable delivery mechanism.
Meanwhile, Eric Rice also recently blogged about the potential for iTunes to at least enable podcasters who use the service to charge SOMETHING for their work, to retrain the audience into not expecting everything for free.
John and Eric are proponents of the concept; I'm more skeptical (for the reasons listed above), though I do see the need to move away from the "all-you-can-eat-for-free" buffet -- for exactly the reason quoted atop this post.
The Andrew Baron / Chris Brogan / Vergel Evans Method: "Charge for SOMETHING ELSE"
Andrew, Chris and Vergel have recently expressed variations on the same theme: "Give away the content as a gateway to SOMETHING ELSE you monetize." Vergel's podcast is all about electronic music creation -- and then he sells mp3s of his songs.
Chris and Andrew champion the concept of giving away videos for free to get people to buy the DVDs, or subscribe to a site to see extra features / content that's unavailable to the (free) masses.
While I CAN agree with this model, it's flawed in one central way: why would I expend dozens of hours and x amount of $ to create something I'm already passionate about, JUST TO HAVE TO CREATE SOMETHING ELSE I CAN CHARGE FOR?
What IS the Internet?
I think what it all comes down to is: how do WE (the creators) SEE new media?
And, how do WE (the consumers) INTERPRET new media?
And, most importantly: How does EVERYONE SEE the internet?
Is it a delivery mechanism unto itself? A marketing and advertising gateway to someplace else? Or a bastion of all things that shall forever remain free?
(And where does what YOU'RE contributing fall along those lines?)