Essay–The Cost Of Free

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There has been a lot of noise lately about whether or not giving away content for free is a bad idea.  A certain podiofiction author of the most successful podfic series in history, has decided to throw in the towel on the podcasting for free model.  He's decided that he's not getting enough back for how much he's putting in.  I can completely understand why he feels this way.  It's his decision and I support him in that.

Writing stories, recording narration, editing, mixing– these are all extremely time intensive endeavors.  Imagine working 10 hours a day, then coming home and working for another 5.  That's what this life can be like, if you let it.  Of course, I'm the lazy, good-for-nothing unemployed asshole who has all the time in the world right now.  Right?

Sure.  Let's say that.  Now let's talk about the people who AREN'T out of work and bust their ass every single week to bring the masses content.  Don't they deserve something for all their hard work?  Shouldn't they get some love?  Some cash?  Some help?  Some support?

I've been an open-source developer.  I worked on pieces of software that I wasn't going to get paid for.  Period.  They were things that I needed to use, and therefore I said "fuck it, other people probably need it too."  But I didn't think it was worth someone buying.  Why bother?

I coded because I loved it.  I loved the idea of creating things and putting them out there for free.  If people used them, fine.  If they didn't, that was okay too.  But there was no expectation for remittance.  There was no expectation anyone would even want it.  And that didn't really matter to me.

So now let's look at the podcasting model.  It basically follows the same premise as open source development.  Some open source developers get very well known by the coding public and are therefore infinitely hireable for consulting gigs and etc.  Podcasting, on the other hand, doesn't exactly lead you to high priced consulting gigs.  You write.  You record.  You edit.  You mix.  You toss it up on the internet.  You pimp.  And if you're lucky, very very lucky, you've written something that people like.  You've recorded something people like.  And you'll get lots and lots of wonderful fans who might occasionally talk to you via twitter, facebook, or your forums.

When I first started podcasting, I was horrified to discover that although lots of people were downloading my work and visiting my site, no one was saying shit.  No comments.  No community interaction.  Nothing.  For a while, I wondered if I was really fucking something up, if I had done something to piss everyone off.  It's very difficult to remember that this is the internet.  Some people like to interact, others not so much.  So I stopped having expectations about hearing from my fans.  I stopped wondering if I was doing something wrong.  I was in awe of how many junkies Sigler has and how many clones Hutchins had.  I finally realized I will probably never have that kind of fanbase.  I also realized, that was okay.

I use podcasting as an excuse to keep writing.  I would love to get published.  I would love to actually see my name on the spine of book sitting in a Barnes and Noble.  That would be the impossible dream come true.  It's the dream I've had since I was about ten years old, and it's the reason I have written so many novels and stories that I promise you will never see the light of day.

So what are my chances of getting published?  What are my chances of making enough money as a professional writer to never have to work a day job again?  The chances of the latter I are far greater than the former.  Even if I were to have a million listeners, there's no guarantee any of them would purchase a single book of mine.  There's no guarantee any of them would be willing to put up a single dollar of hard currency to repay me for my hard work.

All of it's a crap shoot.  So here's the question.  If the chances of my making a single dime from this endeavor are so small, why the fuck do I keep doing it?  Am I fucking mental or something?

Well possibly.  Perhaps it's just my level of narcissism knows no bounds.  Maybe it's because I just like to hear myself talk.  Maybe, just maybe, it's because I enjoy doing it.  And the longer I write, the better I get.  Plus, some of you do actually send me email, talk to me on twitter and facebook, and tell me you like my work.  There are those of you who are patrons in the true sense of the word, contributing money to the cause.  For those few, I can't thank you enough.

This is the beginning of a business, so to speak.  I'm going to be putting my work out there for people to buy at some point soon in the future.  Hopefully it will eventually bring in enough money per year for me to pay the mortgage.  I think that's actually sort of realistic.  It's not enough to build a retirement on.  It's not enough to buy cars, fancy houses, or anything like that.  But it's enough to make a start.  And perhaps I'll eventually be able to move past that and make enough money a year from my writing to dodge a full time gig.  It could happen.

But am I counting on it?  Hah.  Fuck no.  I'm going to keep giving my content away as long as I have an audience.  I don't expect anything from you except the occasional kind word or complaint, and, if you like my writing, to tell others about it.  Pretty low expectations, don't you think?  So yeah, I'll tell you that donations are good if they pay for my hosting costs.  I'll tell you to please consider purchasing my books when they come out.  I mean, shit, I need the cash.  But I'm not going to demand it or hold my content hostage.  You, the audience, you decide what you're going to pay for and what you're not going to pay for.  But I have decided that it's your decision.  My decision is to keep it free and keep it coming.

Written and performed by Paul Elard Cooley This presentation is copyright 2010 by Paul Elard Cooley.
Music provided by Nine Inch Nails from their album: The Slip. Please visit their site at
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