Many of us grew up with digital gadgets and abundant sources of information. To be a little crude, aren’t we digitally spoilt brats? Should we put an end to this ‘free for all’ culture? Online pay-walls has been on the rise lately, with prices tagged on scientific research papers, music and etc. Creators wants their creation to be protected and valued. Mark Helprin, the writer of “A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?“, is an strong advocate of this belief. He believes that in this digital age, the habits that we have grown accustomed to cannot be easily changed. It’s always easier to download than to buy content: users always prefer it free-of-charge. Nothing is free and even if it is, hidden, non-monetary costs are found aplenty in such models. Free usage often suggests more ads and less privacy. This ‘price’ not only breeds a spoilt generation but it also drives out professionals. (Shivani, 2011) Certain music artists/composers, professors and the like generally perceive that publicising their work for free would severely devalue them. Pop star Taylor Swift is a perfect example that highlights this: in 2014, the singer removed all of her songs from the streaming service Spotify in the belief that artists themselves should value their work and receive the proper monetary compensation in accordance.
However, Chris Anderson, the author of “FREE: THE FUTURE OF A RADICAL PRICE”, moved on from this traditional rigid idea. Moving with the old adage “if you can’t beat em’, join em'”, he argues that users should be flexible with digital trends. Thus, he invented 4 types of cross-subsidies to make free content more viable. One of the examples involves making the creation free for anyone who is eventually willing to pay. Adobe Photoshop’s 30-day trial, for example, enables free access to the program for that time-frame, after which a paid subscription becomes mandatory for continued use.
(Source: Photography Uncapped)
Additionally, he suggested a new term ‘Freemium’ where basic users will only be charged if they wish to purchase premium features. Spotify managed to utilise this strategy to its advantage, by offering limited usage of the application in its free version; full features and benefits of the program are only made available to paying premium subscribers.
(Source: Laptop Mag)
Last of all, Gift Economy where content providers give without expecting any direct monetary returns. Often, bloggers are willing to share valuable information to their online readers. Some seek alternative returns such as expanded reach; others do it purely for leisure or philanthropic purposes. However, this tactic is uncommon as it eventually requires sizeable capital or effort to keep the service sustainable.
This video shows how free education is viable:
(Source: PBS NewsHour)
My two cents’ worth? Free content can be highly beneficial to recipients involved but it incurs significant sacrifices on the part of creators. The outcome highly depends on that of the content, its delivery as well as its execution, particularly for business models such as the Freemium cross-subsidy. Specifically for academic content, free access to academic information also has the potential to augment and accelerate progress in various fields, as evidenced in Harvard’s recent decision to digitise 200 years’ worth of U.S case studies to be made available for public use. Where a collective benefit can be gained from free content, this is where I believe free content has its greatest impact, notwithstanding the arguments over who it belongs to in the first place.