Home Open Thread: There’s No Such Thing As Free Content

Open Thread: There’s No Such Thing As Free Content

So why do users keep expecting to consume it, reuse it, share it and store it without paying for it?

Let me explain: Someone, somewhere ends up putting out money for everything you do online, every piece of news you read, every Web app you use. It takes professionals and hardware across a gigantic industry to make these things work. In terms of overhead alone, content costs a lot. So why do some users always kick and scream at the first suggestion of paid content? Do you think content is worth paying for, and if so, what are you personally willing to pay?

This trend has been a common one in our virtual newsroom lately. Whether we’re praising the latest startup that’s had the sense to launch with a freemium model or wondering how old-media models (see News Corp. and the New York Times) are dealing with new media revenue possibilities, the subject of who pays for content and how is a hot one.

As a journalist who came of age career-wise during the print era, and as a musician who first recorded songs on these things called “tapes,” I understand the cultural value of great content, and I admire the men and women who make it. I also love being able to support the creators and publications that bring me the content I love.

On the other hand, as a typical NMD and one who lives almost entirely online, I have done my share of content scalping, whether it’s lifting a copyrighted photo for a design project, illegally downloading a single or two from a multiplatinum artist, or diving deep into the world of torrents where all the films are gloriously free and inconveniently subtitled in Hungarian.

Like any petty thief, I tried to justify my actions to myself by saying that I’m only taking from those who can afford it. But let us speak frankly: The creative and publishing industries are all at a crisis point because of hundreds of millions of people like me who say the exact same thing. I’ve lately started to come to grips with my hypocrisy and started paying for content, whether that’s a legitimate iTunes purchase or a Netflix subscription. I tell you, it feels like I’m giving money to a feed-the-children charity when I’m really just paying for something that should have never been free in the first place.

Today, YouTube has announced its plan to help indie filmmakers (and increase its own revenues) by asking users for a $5 fee to watch a selection of Sundance Film Festival movies. I’m wondering how many users will balk at the fee, and what will go through their heads when they do so.

Will they be thinking about the months or years each filmmaker spent creating the movie? Or the time the actors spent preparing for and performing their roles? Will they think about filming equipment rentals? Will they consider the cost of hosting online videos at a scale that accommodates huge volumes of traffic around the globe and around the clock? Will they think about the developers who work tirelessly to make the magic of online video possible?

Or will they simply knee-jerk and proclaim a loud “How dare they!” at the thought of paid content?

(As a side note, I’m also curious to see a Venn diagram showing the overlap of people who object to paying for online content while vigorously complaining about “distracting” online advertising.)

So, what’s the difference between the analog days, when creators charged for their creations and theft was theft, and these digital times, when anything that’s been transformed into ones and zeroes is fair game for free consumption, piracy, remixing and redistribution?

I’m curious: What kinds of online content, if any, are you willing to pay for? And how much will you pay for them?

Would you pay for news? Special, in-depth reports? Entertainment and multimedia? How about a blog subscription? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: SFDenverLV.]

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