Hello dear readers, it’s your beloved myth buster again. Today I’m goingto try to bust a myth you’ve probably heard too many times already - the “People Just Want Stuff For Free” myth. May I have the crowd’s attention, please? Nice. Let’s take a quick poll. Those of you who’ve never heard the phrase mentioned earlier, raise your hand. Maybe you heard it from your embittered uncle who says that people these days only want things for free and never work for them. Or some music producer who thinks that his work is great but that piracy doesn’t let him make a living from it. Or TV shareholders adding more and more advertisements to their programs and whining about people downloading series or even about Netflix (sic!). Or your teachers who always said that you were smart but didn’t work hard enough so you - obviously - just wanted everything for free.
Now let me be straight - nothing gets on my nerves more than such people and such statements. Why, you ask? Because I hate when anyone tries to make me believe in something that I see is a pile of b... well, let’s call it wrong things.
Here’s why. Have you ever heard of Trent Reznor? Some time ago he shared his album named “Ghosts I-IV” with the world for free under a Creative Commons license. Then he made a three-hundred-dollars-worth deluxe edition of this album and sold all of them in about two days. Ever heard of Radiohead? They let their fans name their own price for a digital download of one of their albums. But instead of just giving that content, they also followed Reznor’s footsteps and they released a “discbox” which included that album on CD and vinyl, along with an additional CD with a few extra songs, photos, artwork and lyrics. According to Pitchfork there were three million sales, 100 000 discboxes shipped and 1.75 million physical CDs sold. Since we’re in a place full of literature lovers, let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard of Cory Doctorow? You know, that Canadian-British, nice (like everyone with Canadian blood in their veins) guy, actively in favour of copyright liberation and Creative Commons lover? He performed quite a self-publishing experiment some time ago. He made a “special edition” hardcover version of one of his pieces and placed these editions on the market for $250 each. And guess what? It was a success. He was also thinking about doing a similar thing with another of his novels, and the plan was to make a limited edition of all his novels – “100 copies each, each one elaborate, personal, beautiful, and amazing.”
Of course you can say that the “limited edition” thing is kind of an old fashioned carrot-on-a-stick economy where you pay for a thing that just looks slightly nicer and sounds more distinguished (UH-OH LIMITED!). But if you look closer it shows a special bond between devoted fans and a writer. The bond with a “you make good art and you’re fair with us so we’re willing to pay for it because we think your work is worth it” label. I see it as a matter of trust between a writer and his/her readers. A writer creates a work which lets us forget about everyday problems and we pay him/her a good amount of money for the hours of pain he/she puts into the blank pages (well, computer screen, I guess).
To be honest with you, my guess would be that yes, people usually don’t want to pay for stuff. But that only applies to the stuff that’s bad or the stuff that they don’t know anything about. Did your teacher tell you that you wanted your grades for free? Maybe it was his fault for not making you interested enough in his lessons and making you think that they weren’t worth your time (and we all know that the older we get, the more valuable time becomes). Do you hear big cable TV companies complaining about how people stop watching their ad-filled shows and go to piracy instead? Well, maybe that’s because people hate wasting their time watching ads.
Why is OpenBooks.com awesome in all this? Well, I’m sure everyone who’s used it at least once knows it already, but to the OB-virgins around here: you get a book, you read it, then you measure what it’s worth and pay those nice guys (writers and site developers) the amount of cash that you think it’s really worth. There’s really no limited edition carrot anywhere in here, just plain trust. And this is how should it happen in the Information Age, don’t you think? I guess Cory Doctorow would agree with me.