One of the dumbest ideas to have come out of the internet is the idea that everything on the web should be free.In October 2009, Newsday, a popular newspaper in the NYC area, began to charge $5 a month to subscribe to its online content. Newsday has about 400,000 daily readers and about 450,000 weekend readers. After three months, Newsday's online content had 35 paid subscribers.
This idea has been glorified in a book called Free by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief at Wired and author of another suspect theory, The Long Tail.
Without going too deep, the premise is that intellectual property on the web, unlike that in the real world, should have no economic value. Instead, artists should give away their music, art, literature, inventions -- everything -- free on the web, and by some magic process they'll make it all back by giving lectures or something.
Of course, Anderson himself isn't giving anything away. You want his book? $17.81 at Amazon.
Now, enter a voice of reason. Jaron Lanier, a tech genius who invented the term "virtual reality" and had a hand in lots of important tech stuff we take for granted today, has written a book called "You Are Not A Gadget."
From a review of Lanier's book:
Lanier is at his most convincing while parsing the illogic of the open source/open culture direction of the Internet. His position is that the price we pay for free content... is a severe devaluing of individual human creation.Lanier is right.
As I said in an interview with AdPulp last year...
Artists' works used to be among the most highly valued of commodities and were protected by law. While technically they still are, the laws seem virtually unenforceable...
Online content is now expected to be free. AdPulp has several thousand readers a day. You're entitled to something for the news/entertainment/information you provide them. I know how hard you work. You work all day, every day to provide it. But they expect it for free. Why? Do they work for free?From an article about Lanier that you should read...
This is partly why Lanier is wary of what he calls the "information shall be free" religion. In a fair and sustainable economy, he says, why shouldn't the 16-year-old who made a mashup video that generated 1 million views for YouTube get paid?Of course, Lanier is being denounced as a Luddite by the infantile morons who think they're entitled to everything free because they're alive.
"We're destroying the creative middle classes; we're destroying reporters, illustrators, songwriters - and we're not really creating a new industry," he says. "We're creating a kind of centralized set of server-operators."
"Free" is just a massive transfer of wealth from those who create things to those, like Google, who aggregate access to them.