I love free stuff. I can’t count the number of free ebooks I have on my computer, and I’m notorious for collecting free leftover food for our chickens.
But maybe enough is enough.
It all started when I read these posts from Kristen Lamb, who blogs about writing, the author business, and having a mentality to succeed. You should really read her posts to get the full impact of her arguments – “How Free is Poisoning the Internet and Killing the Creatives” and “Welcome to the Matrix: You Work For Free and There Is No Payday”, along with others, I’m sure – but here’s the gist…
Savvy Businessman Meets Idealistic Creative
She outlines how content providers (middlemen like Amazon, Apple, Huffington Post, and others) get content from the producers (authors write books and articles; performers give shows; singers produce songs) and offer that content to consumers (the mass public).
Consumers love entertainment, articles, music, etc. The businesses in the middle get paid by advertisers, so they offer a lot of content for Free.
Consumers love Free. I love free. Most of my news or research is found for free online. I love free music, and I love free books.
The sticky part comes in when the actual creators of the work need to be paid.
The Payment Model
Mrs. Lamb says the modern market is operating on an outdated model. Used to be, young, inexperienced authors/actors/singers worked internships for little or nothing…to build bridges, get their name out, and hone their skills.
What makes Mrs. Lamb see red is asking experienced, professional, and high-quality producers to do the same thing.
The Huffington Post is her whipping boy, because they openly make millions from ad revenue, but don’t pay any of their contributors for the content they place on their site. (Smart business move for them…bad deal for the writers.)
Remember: I love free articles. But I agree that making authors feel like the site is doing them a favor by using their content (without paying them to use it) is under-handed.
The Vicious Cycle
Read Mrs. Lamb’s full posts…they’re long, but there are more examples in there:
- Performers expected to do their show pro bono at a conference because someone famous is hosting.
- Speakers invited to workshops, but not even offered enough money to cover traveling and food expenses (because she’s supposed to teleport there, I guess).
- Authors down-rated in a review because their debut book isn’t free, even though they’re a new author (it’s in one of the comments, but I don’t remember where).
Mrs. Lamb’s solution is author organization: authors as a body saying, “Our work is worth something, or you wouldn’t be making such a killing with it. We’re done handing it out for free; we have kids to feed and college to pay for the same as you.”
If you liked it, you should have put a ring on it…
Addicted to Free
Once these articles opened my eyes, I started seeing this in other places around us. Our culture really is addicted to free…from free healthcare to free rent to free food to free education.
But generalities are hard to grasp. Let me zoom in the lens.
- “Kelly” (our foster kids’ mom) got free rent from the state. She and her kids never picked up their wrappers, never cleaned (I’m not sure they did laundry), and didn’t know how to cook. Every time her apartment got too roach-ridden, she would move…without warning the landlord, or even bothering to pack her stuff. It was mostly all hand-outs, anyway. She never paid for any of it, so she didn’t value it.
- A recent customer at my day job took down forty bolts of fabric to look at. Five minutes before closing. At the manager’s subtle disbelief, the customer displayed no remorse, blamed the whole thing on her daughter, acted oblivious to all the work she was putting others to, and left with her purchase without so much as a “Sorry for making such a mess” or “I’ll help put these back”. The associates were left putting away fabric for ten minutes after closing time. The lady didn’t have to pick them up, so she didn’t care (or maybe didn’t even notice)…”Entitled” is the word someone used.
We’re so disconnected from where things come from, that we don’t value them. I’m super glad I don’t have to butcher my own chickens for my casserole, or fatten my own pig for my ham…but when we don’t pay for anything with our own, hard-earned money, we don’t value it so much.
Let’s Go From Preaching to Meddling
Healthcare. I think my country’s healthcare is pretty good. At the very least, we can walk into the MRI clinic in my hometown and be served…without having to wait ten weeks like in Canada!
State-funded healthcare is just another example of how consumers have been programed to expect everything to be given to them. Even when co-pays or private clinics outside the system could help everyone seeking healthcare, we can’t imagine dipping into our own pockets for a doctor’s visit.
This whole issue lines up with some other things God has been teaching us recently.
A few weeks ago, our washing machine broke…and so did our dryer, the truck’s tire, and the furnace.
I started thinking, “I wonder how God’s going to provide the money for all this?”
After it was resolved, I realized, “He might have just said: You don’t need a washing machine right now.”
Let’s face it: I live a pretty cushy life. There’s a lot around here that I don’t exactly need.
But I’ve been given so much. How can I live in such a way that I hold it with an open hand?
I’m not talking about “Oh, I’m going to give X amount to charity now, because I read a sob story and feel bad about being well off.”
No. I mean a lifestyle change, an attitude change…a Holy Spirit-fueled change!
Generous on Whose Part?
So, yes, God wants us to “give what we’ve decided in our hearts, freely and without coercion” (Kimia’s paraphrase of 2 Cor. 9:7).
But He also said this part:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
—1 Tim. 5: 17-18 (ESV)
The worker is worth his pay.
The definition of “slavery” is “working, under coercion, without getting paid.” Now, there are different ways of being paid:
- You perform your songs because it’s fun, so the experience and just having an audience are the reward.
- You send a copy of your book to a beta reader/critique reader in exchange for feedback. Helping you grow as a writer is how they repay you.
- You believe in helping fatherless children, so you volunteer your time as a mentor. That’s supporting something you believe in.
- You write because you love the act of writing, and you publish on Amazon because you want to order yourself copies and just hold that gorgeous baby in your hands.
- You love your mother and help her with chores because she needs the help, and of course you would help her.
All these are perfectly valid and worthwhile elements. But notice that every single one of them is a decision you made about your work and your compensation.
You didn’t say anything about me and my books. That’s not something you have the right to decide.
Bringing It Full Circle
This all started with an article about writers. If you, or I, want to give our work away for free…more power to us.
What gets Kristen Lamb livid is the “entitlement” of others who act like they deserve our labor and our product for nothing.
Like Apple’s streaming service offering consumers three months of free songs (until the musicians stood up for each other and said, “Not with our paycheck, you’re not”).
Or like a website I recently ran across where readers can request a book in order to review it (all for free)…but authors pay a monthly subscription to host their books.
I get it – websites take money to host. And a review is kind of a compensation (though the government won’t let you “give” anything “in exchange for” a review). Before I read Mrs. Lamb’s blog posts, I probably wouldn’t have thought about it.
But now it occurs to me that this is exactly upside down to how it “should” be.
In Soviet Russia, authors pay for you to read books…
Recognize the Value We Provide
Entertainment is a valuable product…otherwise, people wouldn’t be so eager to consume it. There’s nothing wrong in letting the actual creators of this product enjoy the fruits of their labor (in the form of paychecks).
“Nothing wrong”? How about: “It’d be a good thing”!
(Obviously, if nobody wants to read Joe Someone’s book, that’s not our problem. We shouldn’t pay for t-shirts we don’t even own! But if everyone is crazy about Joe’s book, then we should totally pay Joe for his book – and not get it off that piracy site instead!)
If authors and entertainers work their butts off but never get enough money to put food on the table, eventually some of them (if not most of them) will give up and do something else. Imagine a world without TV shows, movies, or new books and songs…
However, if we “vote with our money” on the stories and artists we like the most, that will encourage those creators to make even more content! Like a series of books? Writing the author an encouraging note never hurts…but monetary incentive wouldn’t be misplaced, either 🙂
Let the Change Affect Me
Well, all these elements started me on some hard decisions. To live more deliberately, and more generously, I’m going to consider some changes:
Towards Other People
- If I like a song enough to look up the music video on YouTube…maybe I also like it enough to actually buy it from the actual artist? (Or even buy the whole CD?!?)
- If I enjoy a free book and want to support the author, maybe I can do more than write a review…maybe I can buy one of their other books and read it, too?
Towards My Own Work
- I work hard on my projects, and it shows in their quality. Even though I’m content for my writing to not be my main income, I don’t want to feed this vicious cycle.
- Giving my work away for free trains people to crave FREE FREE FREE. It reinforces the whole paradigm we struggled with above. And I’m no longer convinced it gets more people to actually read my work.
- It breaks my heart to charge for my work, because I know how much I love FREE and don’t want to be a hypocrite. But I also don’t want to be part of the further degradation of the market as a whole.
- Besides, I think I personally have reached the point of Decreasing Marginal Returns with free ebooks. Used to be, I snapped them up left and right. Now, it’s no longer an automatic “Add to Cart”…probably because I’ve decided I should actually read them if I get them.
- Finally…MY BOOKS ARE WORTH IT! The written word is a subjective product (unlike, say, a t-shirt), but I’ve gotten enough feedback from enough different people that it’s not just me talking…I’M A GOOD WRITER. And there’s no shame in charging money for my product!
And maybe, just maybe, charging money will make any reader who takes a chance on me value my books more than they otherwise would.
Maybe they’ll read them…and review them…and tell all their friends…and have fun in the worlds I’ve created.
Will the Change Affect You?
This isn’t just about how much I love free stuff. This is about acknowledging the value of people’s time and labor.
This is about valuing one another…being grateful for what we have…and generously saying, “I don’t need all this.”
What hard decisions will you be led to? How can you “live generously” in a world driven by FREE?
Will you take a hard look at the costs of our culture…and dare to do something about your part of it? (Not someone else’s part – yours.)
She currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, gaming, writing, hobby-farming…and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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