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The Real Cost Of Free

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By Cory Doctorow: Last week, my fellow Guardian columnist Helienne Lindvall published a piece headlined The cost of free, in which she called it “ironic” that “advocates of free online content” (including me) “charge hefty fees to speak at events”.

Lindvall says she spoke to someone who approached an agency I once worked with to hire me for a lecture and was quoted $10,000-$20,000 (£6,300-£12,700) to speak at a college and $25,000 to speak at a conference. Lindvall goes on to talk about the fees commanded by other speakers, including Wired editor Chris Anderson, author of a book called “Free” (which I reviewed here in July 2009), Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde and marketing expert Seth Godin. In Lindvall’s view, all of us are part of a united ideology that exhorts artists to give their work away for free, but we don’t practice what we preach because we charge so much for our time.

It’s unfortunate that Lindvall didn’t bother to check her facts. I haven’t been represented by the agency she referenced for several years, and in any event, no one has ever paid me $25,000 to appear at any event. Indeed, the vast majority of lectures I give are free (see here for the past six months’ talks and their associated fees

This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..

10 Responses to “The Real Cost Of Free”

  1. Extremely well written. Funny how the detracting comments are making an attack that was addressed already in the article, and then have to drag up terrible, non-sequitur anecdotes to support their argument. No-one gives a fuck about Clay Shirky, Greg. If you can’t attack the substance of the article, just shut the fuck up.

  2. Prof_moriarty

    sorry Norm, you kind of missed the one very very important point the DRM. This is one of the worst ideas every.. the problem is that for example Video games – DRM causes the most harm to people who BOUGHT THE GAME LEGALLY! Same with DVD’s… I PAY for a dvd, I own the DVD LEGALLY, but I have to sit through advertisements and warnings EVER time I watch it, that I cannot skip past.. but I PAID FOR IT.. but people who download it, get to watch it, right away. no ads, no warnings.

    yes for DVD’s I realize it’s just a few minutes.. but it’s the Point of the matter, I should NOT have to be forced to watch crap like that when I just want to watch a movie I PAID FOR.

    But here’s what I do care about. I care if your plan involves using “digital rights management” technologies that prohibit people from opening up and improving their own property; if your plan requires that online services censor their user submissions; if your plan involves disconnecting whole families from the internet because they are accused of infringement; if your plan involves bulk surveillance of the internet to catch infringers, if your plan requires extraordinarily complex legislation to be shoved through parliament without democratic debate; if your plan prohibits me from keeping online videos of my personal life private because you won’t be able to catch infringers if you can’t spy on every video.

  3. Joe Black

    100 proof is gunpowder proof and you go up in black smoke with the blue flame special operation. Keep the troops in high spirits Troopers and food on the range for the Rangers. It’s about to get a lot more dangerous, perhaps even deadly. As always it’s a rough game. Greatness need not be argued. Keep it going all around, we lived pretty high.


  4. Norm Johnson

    What about producers of news reports, articles requiring in depth research and reports that analyse information. If anyone is allowed to copy and resell or represent their work without compensation how do people in these pursuits make a living? If everyone just aggregates or copies this type of work who will feel inclined to produce the work? If I dig a ditch why should someone else walk up to my boss and be given my pay? I understand that the ability to copy is unlikely to be reduced and I certainly don’t think Viacom or anybody else should be able to review any data I don’t publicly publish online, but still don’t buy the idea that because you can steal something you should. New technology raises new questions that require new answers. Neither the old idea of locking up content nor the knee jerk idea that it must be given away since we can now copy it electronically, seem to be “new’ thinking.
    I just heard about a new book on the radio the other day (sorry I can’t remember the name) that told a story about Pres. Truman when he was presented with the possiblity that the Soviets might make a Hydrogen bomb. He asked his team ” Can they do it?” When the anwser was yes, he said “then so must we.” And thus the cold war was taken to the next level. The reality was that while the Soviets might be able to make this type of bomb we already had hundreds of less powerful nuclear bombs already and they had very few. Perhaps we could have used this advantage to postpone or eliminate the need for either side to produce even more powerful Hydrogen bombs, just as poison gas was outlawed after WWI. What do this have to do with copyright? It’s an example of how old thinking blinds people to new answers to problems created by new technology. The consequences may not be as dire but the need for new thinking and solutions is just as evident. Either or solutions all paid or all free are old thinking.

  5. This “free” nonsense is just a rehash of loss leads, an retail industry practice where you sell some things at margin or below cost to entice sales of more profitable products/service. Look up “loss leads” and then laugh at these “free” buzzword jokers.

  6. I agree with Helienne. The situation is not only ironic but outright hypocritical.

    Once I had a long and stormy exchange with Clay Shirky — another “for free” guru — about how so called user-generated content is nothing but exploitation, especially by some well-known online giants that force content creators to submit their work or art for free only to sell it to the advertisers. Clay, who has made a career for himself claiming that all content must be free, defended that model and was strongly against any paid sites, micropayments or paywalls. But when I asked him to allow me publish his comments for free on my blog, he immediately protested, warned me about his rights and shot down the exchange.

  7. I think this is simplistic like most of these pieces.

    Filesharing sites are making money from creative works. Rapidshare etc. charge for subscriptions and also feature advertising, and are using creative content to drive that but don’t filter any of the money back. That’s one reason file sharing is bollocks. It’s not about the end-of-the-line downloader, the internet is actually not free, there are lots of bills and generally the uploader and the downloader are paying and the guys in the middle are getting paid (ISPs, hosts, filesharing sites).

    This isn’t just because they don’t pay for the content which makes their money.

  8. I never understood her point in the first place. Giving your stuff away free online, then making your money from live appearances, is a perfectly sensible business model for the digital age. Bands are doing it.