October 5, 2007


The value of free (Julian Joyce, 10/05/07, BBC Magazine)

Artists and companies are queuing up to hand out free CDs, DVDs and books. But with so much stuff being given away, is culture becoming devalued?

Prince has done it. Most of the national newspapers seem to do it every day.

Give stuff away for free, that is. And not just any old thing. Quality stuff you'd pay good money for in a shop.

The latest cultural philanthropists are Radiohead, who will release their next album as a digital download. In an unusual move for a major band, fans are being allowed to pay what they like. Even bids as low as a single penny - plus a 45p transaction fee - are accepted.

Other popular artists - like Prince and the Charlatans - are giving away their albums.

Outside the music industry, rival media groups are slugging it out for a share of the growing free newspaper market. Londoners can avail themselves of a free weekly sport magazine and the latest venture in this vein is a free men's magazine, distributed nationally to commuters.

Items being given away is the result of changing economics. The stratospheric rise in internet advertising as well as old-media phenomena like newspaper circulation battles, means "content" is increasingly seen as a tool to be used in a battle to obtain money for other things rather than just as an object for sale.

Finally figured out how to use bit torrents a couple months ago and among the many neat things I've found are BBC Radio productions of various mysteries, like Inspector Morse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 5, 2007 7:38 AM

One thing never menitioned in all the "free" content discussion is that those who've already gotten rich or well established are the ones doing it, and it has the side effect of raising the price of competition. When computer operating systems, for instance, are given away, there's no economic incentive for someone to come out with another (or better) one. Worse, the person who might want to develop that new content has no way to recoup their costs or make the capital investments necessary to produce that content. (Not everyone can make a living on McArthur Grants, tenure and T-shirt sales, which is the business model too many software open source activists advocate.) Someone who's made their millions, like this RadioHead or The-Artist-Who-Formerly-Used-A-Dingbat-For-A-Name, don't have that problem. Also, without price information, there's no feedback as to which product is worthy of imitation or competiton, or completion, for that matter.

Note, for example, the content you found was something old, that didn't cost the people making it available. (If anything, they probably incurred costs in preserving that content and you aren't helping defray those costs. So once all the old 20s through 70s content has been mined out, then what?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 5, 2007 8:40 AM

My favorite free thing? The Brothersjudd blog! (Well, that or espn.com.)

Posted by: Foos at October 5, 2007 9:01 AM

Go to Librivox and folks are producing that same content for free as a hobby.

Posted by: oj at October 5, 2007 11:20 AM

Bit torrents sounds a lot like what Napster used to be like.

Posted by: Bartman at October 5, 2007 12:59 PM

"Artists and companies are queuing up to hand out free CDs, DVDs and books. But with so much stuff being given away, is culture becoming devalued?"

In light of the "masterpieces" that have been "created" and placed in museums over the last fifty years, I say that it is impossible to devalue the culture.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 5, 2007 1:16 PM

Art is and always has been free. It isn't really worth anything. What people have been paying for- let's use music as an example, has been the promotion, packaging, distribution of the content, not the content itself.

We are now seeing a change in how the distribution is monitized.

Posted by: Perry at October 6, 2007 9:40 AM

Sorry for the spellin' - monetized.

Posted by: Perry at October 6, 2007 9:42 AM

Which is why almost all great art has been a product of patronage, most often state or church.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2007 10:49 AM