Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What do you expect for free?

I had a nice discussion today about the ever popular subject of free content and people's willingness (or not) to pay for net services. I find it hard to understand why some people go to such lengths to avoid paying for music or films over the net but are quite happy to fork out real cash for, say, extra magic powers in World of Warcraft, virtual clothes in Second Life or special ring tones for a mobile. At auctions people are willing to pay astronomical sums of money for any item associated with Elvis or Michael Jackson but don't want to pay for their music.

Money! by Tracy O, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Tracy O 

The key to price is clearly exclusivity. There is a finite number of shoes worn by Elvis and the market price i high whereas his actual music, being digital, can be copied infinitely and is therefore of little value. Exclusive digital material is rarer and generally belongs to commercially locked environments such as virtual worlds. Magic powers in WoW take a long time and considerable skill to earn and that creates a demand for short-cuts and market forces come into force.

In a world of branding and exclusivity where we are happy to pay enormous mark-up prices for the right brand, I wonder if we can really appreciate free content? If open educational resources becomes mainstream, as I hope, will we still be prepared to pay for some resources and if so what kinds of services could be so exclusive? Or will all digital content become free since it is so easily copied whereas hard copy and artifacts have a price tag?

Loose thoughts and no clear answers.

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