The Culture Of Free In A Digital Universe

Posted on Posted in internet, website

Who among us does not like getting something for free? Whether times are tough or not most of us appreciate not paying for something we want or like.

The world wide web has taken this to new heights. There are all sorts of sites with all sorts of content which we access for free.

Music, Art, Entertainment, Books, Sports, Games … you name it. In fact, how many of you when faced with a pay-wall for premium content simply decide to go elsewhere? I know – I've done the same thing.

You probably have to really want the content to decide to pay for it, because in most cases you can get what you're after somewhere else for free.

But this "free" content does have a price. The creators of the content certainly incur expenses in order to produce the content. So, how is it that there's so much content available for "free"?

There are several dynamics at play. In most cases the owners of large web site operations are able to monetize the traffic they receive by selling advertising, which allows them to offer content for free.

If you're able to prove that you get millions of visits each day, advertisers find this valuable and are willing to pay for the privilege of being visible on the site. Or they pay for the clicks they receive on the ads displayed on the site.

In order to continue to receive millions of visits each day, these sites require new and interesting content all of the time. After all, if the sites you visit have the same thing each day, you probably will not frequent them very often. So, how do you solve the problem of acquiring new and interesting content continuously?

If you're a News site – you rely on reporters to develop and report on stories as part of the news cycle. This is a very expensive operation, after the reporters have to be paid for their efforts. Some News sites rely on pledges from their visitors to support their operations and conduct periodic fund raising campaigns to keep their operations going. Other sites are owned by larger organizations which consider it valuable to maintain a presence on the internet and can afford the news gathering effort although they still tend to sell advertising.

A number of the large social media sites discovered the best way to acquire new and interesting content continued was to allow their visitors to provide the content themselves.

Every photo, post, update, etc. is content provided for free by the visitors and then monetized by the sites. Now this may seem like a pretty fair arrangement in this context. The visitors (you and me) get a nice site with all sorts of fresh content, we're able to connect and share with friends, and they do not charge us anything. It's FREE! Yay us!

You may not think of yourself as a content creator – but broadly defined, when you upload photos, or post videos of your dog or cat doing dog and cat stuff, or make a post providing some of your life lessons – you are a content creator .

However, let's think of content creators a bit more narrowly defined. Let's look at Writers, Musicians, Singers, Artists, Videographers, etc. In many cases these content creators produce their content at great expense to themselves. If they are unknown content creators then one of their first tasks is to find a platform or forum to gain exposure for their content.

There are many specialized web sites which cater to these specific areas – where the content creator is enticed to provide their content for free to the site with the carrot being that they will gain exposure for their content and gather new fans of their work along the way . Many of these sites even provide a means for the content creator to sell their content directly to the visitors of the site. This sounds wonderful in theory.

The content creator gets to have their content exposed to lots of people, far more than the content creator might be able to reach on their own. The content creator has a platform to offer their content for sale to those who are interested, with possibly a small cut to the website owner. A win for everyone, right?

Well, not quite. There's still the culture of free to overcome. We visitors have become accustomed to receiving our content for free. And while we might like some content, maybe even like it enough to give it careful consideration, but when it comes down to clicking the "BUY" button, there's a tendency to move on, because we do not have to have it. And there's more free content available somewhere else.

It is still a win for the site owner – because they are able to monetize the visits and sell advertising. However, in this scenario the content creator is left trying to figure out what they need to do to close the deal with the consumer.

Of course it is the job of the content creator to make their content as compelling as possible so that a consumer will deem it worth acquiring. But the Culture of Free is a difficult hurdle to overcome in this context. Prior to so much content becoming digitized, it was necessary to acquire it via whatever means of distribution was available. Absent that, there were not many legal free means of accessing or acquiring content – beyond free broadcast radio or television, or in the case of print media – heading to the newstand or the bookstore.

Content creators are faced with an ever expanding landscape where everyone is vying for attention and so much is offered for free it has the effect of devaluing the creative efforts of content creators. Some would argue that the cream will still rise to the top, even in this environment. And that content creators simply have to be more innovative with drawing attention to their work, and produce more compelling content.

Ultimately, I believe that content creators are far better served by taking all the steps that they can to direct traffic to their own websites. Content creators may still choose to make some of their content available for free to their visitors – but at least any monetization would benefit the content creators directly.

And yes, I do recognize the irony that this article will probably appear on some of the larger sites I refer to which aggregate content for free from content creators such as myself.