Digital Isn’t Free

Since the dawn of internet, people assumed, that the internet and everything on it, is cheap and free. They assumed that because information, that we pay on paper, is on a computer screen, has no cost associated with it, that it somehow occurs like air and since we don’t pay for air, we shouldn’t pay for these ones and zeros.

This notion, which is as silly as the notion that oranges are free since they grow from the ground naturally and there fore should be free at a sore, may have its beginnings from the origins of internet. In the beginning, there was no demand for internet in the public sphere. There was no way to buy it or pay for it and so it had no value, and therefore, anyone who programmed or worked on internet, had no value. It was the days of free AOL and kids who created websites for friends and family, for free. I was one of those kids and I should have been paid.

You see, what is actually the case is that internet isn’t free. It is actually very very expensive. It has a low barrier to entry, but everything on it has huge expense, especially if you want to do things right. Just like in the non-virtual world. To create a website for the home, a good one, you need to have an artist or a programmer who spent years developing their skill. You can try, but we know that the result will be the difference between the cabinet you build and one bought at a high end furniture store. You could go cheap with SquareSpace but everyone knows it’s an Ikea. If you need something more advanced and custom, then it is like hiring a cheap plumber, it will work for a bit but try to have two people use the shower and the dishwasher and your are hiring an expensive one to clean the mess and re-do the work.

 To develop a more complex site is even more complicated. The complications require time, human time, educated human time, and that costs money. Think, every product has to be photographed, by a professional photographer, just like at a magazine. Then you have to write something, in a way that is professional and catchy and without grammar or spelling mistakes and that takes a writer, a professionally trained writer, like those working for ad agencies or newspapers. You then have to lay the content out in an attractive way, with a help of an designer, like a professionally trained artist. And then you have to have all the different parts working with the interaction of the user in all the millions of combinations that people like to buy and browse and preview the content. That takes a mathematicians and a programmers, and damn good programmers. The quality of these people working on a site is the difference in and and that difference is also in price of their paychecks as well as the teams of those people who create the content and then all the support teams and staff that they have to have around them including sales, accounting, finance, IT etc etc etc.

But it doesn’t end there, because you think distribution is free but it isn’t. Who lays the fiber? Who develops new and faster technology so that you don’t download at 26k but at 1Mb/s? Who secures your data so that hackers don’t get it? Who makes sure that all these professionals can work quickly and efficiently? And then who pays for all of the terabytes of data that you decide to download and all of your friends from that one site? All that bandwidth costs you $50 bucks a month, you’re one person, imagine millions! Multiply those millions and that’s how much it costs for a business to send you all those songs. Who should pay for that? Well, you pay for the transportation of the orange, and so you should pay for the transportation of the zero and ones.

Why? Because all of that is created so that you can have the convenience of not carrying around a newspaper which gets your fingers dirty or a fiddle everywhere you go so that every-time you wanted to hear a song, you’d have to play it yourself. Convenience saves time and time is money and people forget sometimes to pay the money just because the time saved is through zeros and ones.

As one last example. If what had value for us was not the content but the form it was sold to us, then we would still buy records instead of downloading songs and we would still have all those free AOL CDs, in fact blank ones. But it is not what carries the content we consume that is important to us, but the content itself. And the more convenient it is for us to get, the more we should pay for it. Because that convenience, is our time and the time of those who made it convenient. And that time, costs money. That’s only fair, don’t you agree?

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