The hidden price of free

For my first (very, very late) post of 2011, I want to talk about an issue which has been bugging me for some time. I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s something we should all be very aware of, as writer, readers and anyone who uses the internet.

What compelled me to write was reading a post in the New York Times which referred to people contributing to social media as ‘a nation of serfs’. It cast a light on the fact that we, as contributors to Facebook, Twitter, and countless other sites create the content and essentially give those sites value, both in real terms and financially. These sites are valued at and are occasionally bought for hundreds of millions of dollars, but their contributors never see a penny. Is that right?

The internet has already evolved into a space where there is a mind boggling amount of stuff available for free (genuinely free or pirated), from news and articles to software, TV, music videos and e-books – and a load of other things I am not even going to touch on, you get the picture. It creates an expectation in internet users that you can get stuff for free if you look hard enough, after all, why pay? The internet’s all about sharing, right? 

This troubles me, because whilst I feel this ethos is a good one in many ways, as a writer (or any kind of artist), it may be difficult to earn a living from writing when the value of my work can be devalued by endless availability of cheaper or free options. Don’t get me wrong, when I hear that the prices some publishers are demanding for e-books are more than the hard copy I don’t think that’s right, but I do believe artists need to resist the drive toward zero cost for the end reader/user. It’s like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs – artists can only devote the time to create their best work when they can support themselves financially, earning a fair return from their work.

With the issue of kindle book piracy in the news recently it makes me wonder if the whole business model for publishing will change. We have already seen an explosion in bloggers and youtubers making their content free but attracting revenue through adsense and sponsored advertising. Is this the future of ebooks? That’s pretty scary, but it makes a certain kind of sense.

About Scott Foley

Scott Foley is a British fantasy writer based in Manchester. He is author of Knight of Aslath and the Dreaming God Chronicle. Brought up on a steady diet of Tolkien, roleplaying games and a never-ending fascination with the question ‘what if?’, writing fantasy novels seemed the only sensible and worthwhile thing to do with his life. Knight of Aslath is his first novel, and he is currently working on the sequel Warlords of the Dreaming God. Both novels form the beginning of the Dreaming God Chronicle and are set in the fantasy world of Teth-Kiran. Knight of Aslath is available on Amazon, and you can find out more about Scott's work at: