Should free content creators be commercially compensated for giving away things for free?
Posted: 2:19 pm
November 26th, 2007
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Friends, Gaypile, Web 2.0

Disclosure: I have been a Microsoft MVP in Microsoft Exchange category for two years, each year the reward consists of some swag and a $150 credit in the Microsoft store. How I got the award (first or second time) is beyond me, it carries no professional status value (i.e., it’s not a certification of knowledge or experience like an MCSE) and I generally do not use it. However, it is a great honor bestowed by Microsoft to the enthusiasts of their technology and I am quite grateful for it and the product involvement that has come as a result of it.

Started by the opening few minutes of Simpson’s last night, here is some food for thought..

Some of you feel that you don’t have to support MVPs or really offer any gratification in return for someone helping you. You don’t. Some of you don’t even feel thanks are in order. Fair enough. Some of you feel that the content produced on the Internet is done at the will of its creators, distributed for free to get attention and you can take it or leave it. Very true. Some of you will go to community events like SBS groups, .NET meetings, Linux user groups, bootcamps and mashups without thinking you owe the organizers a damn thing. You’re right!

Point is, you cannot owe someone something if you didn’t agree to purchase it. If it had material value, it would come with a price tag and you would judge if it was worth the monetary tradeoff or not. And since it comes without a price tag it is equivalent to a giveaway. Do you owe it thanks? Sure, if you appreciated it. Do you owe it gratitude? I suppose so, if it gives you a lasting benefit.

In a nutshell, we are a free society with an incentive based monetary system, and if someone is going to offer something for nothing you do not owe them any compensation, personal or commercial.

So you don’t have to. But should you?

Wayne brought up a great point this morning, in a nutshell saying “people can only keep on fighting the good fight whilst they don’t need to think about how to pay the bills. Once they need to think more about money than the job they like doing, they stop to do it.”

Some people thrive on accomplishment. Some thrive on money. Some thrive on personal gratitude. Some thrive on attention. Some thrive on argument and passion. Most people have something that makes them tick, something that self-motivates them to do what they do.

The Answer Underpants Gnomes Are Seeking

South Park is a world famous adult cartoon that places children in rather vulgar adult situations and exposes how in a naive fashion children expose the huge adult flaws in logic.

One of the most quoted episodes is the one of the Underpants Gnomes (wikipedia), in which children are asked to write a paper on economics. They meet the underpants gnomes who sneak into kids rooms at nights and steal underpants.  Gnomes have this colossal operation and setup, designed to make profit with just a few missing pieces. They know where they are (collect pants) and where they want to be (profit) they just need to fill in the middle. This is also known as the “every web 2.0 and dot com business plan, EVER” which is why you see it quoted on nearly every social networking site out there when reviewing questionable business plans:

Gnomes_plan

So, let’s circle this back. When you hear or see someone giving something away for free, you ought to try and answer: How are they going to survive doing that? Are they giving it away to gain exposure? Customer base? Attention? What is step 2?

Same question ought to get asked of the Microsoft MVPs, group leaders, event organizers, user groups, etc. How are the leaders, in the end, being compensated for their work?

The easy answer is the question “Who gives a shit” – after all, if they have the time to write, blog, podcast, video blog, answer questions and participate in the IT events and discussions they likely need to get another job. So what if they get tired, someone else will just fall into their place and it’s not your economic duty to subsidize people with flawed business plans – you’re saving $$$ for the iPod Touch.

And for the record – I don’t blame you. I am perhaps the same. I’ve watched the Evolution of Dance video on YouTube at least 20 times and to my recollection I haven’t paid the guy, or Youtube once. I am sure the guy makes money somehow, somewhere, frankly I don’t care.

But the things I do care about, the things that I enjoy, I support. I love 2 Live Crew music and have purchased every single CD they put out. I love The Darkness, and have purchased the CD’s and even went to a concert. (yes, there is a pattern here, I like it when people do phenomenal things with so few resources / talent). I hate Michael Savage and his beliefs with a passion, but I love his delivery – so I bought his books. I could not fall asleep without Coast 2 Coast AM, and I subscribe to its Streamlink even though the program is available on the AM band and I don’t believe in bigfoot, chupacabras or the JFK conspiracies.

Point is, I support what I enjoy because I care that it survives.

End Game

If you don’t support what you care about, it disappears. If you take what you get for free for granted, it comes back as the nastiest commercial substitute you can imagine. If you can only take, without ever giving, you might get accustomed to that and when you need it there may be none left for the taking.

The loose change bin, do you ever put loose change back or do you only take?

In restaurants, do you ever compensate someone for their hard work – even though it’s their f’n job – or do you just stiff them?

Well, dear friends, it works the same way in Cyberspace. If you don’t support the things you like, they will go away.

If you are a content creator that doesn’t want to run a business but is open to a monetary contribution from the people that enjoy what you do, setup and publish a PayPal address. You can even make a subscription, by making Paypal do a reoccurring withdrawal of a few bucks a month. Whatever the case, you are sharing what you want, the public that appreciates you will send you it feels like is appropriate and it’s not a business, it’s just a way of saying thanks.

For the consuming public: Without gratitude, the courtesy goes away. For the content creators: Be honest about what you want.

If you choose to do nothing, you end up with the insults to your intelligence such as this guys site, and SPF Nation. But if you don’t care, perhaps thats the best you deserve.

P.S. Woops. Had to edit the link to coasttocoastam.com – apparently, coast2coastam.com is an amateur porn site. Thanks to Danny from Nofx for pointing that out.






 

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