VoluntaryEconomy

August 04, 2005
(or Why I Give My Music Away)

There's a reason I subscribed to Clay Shirky's blog. I have yet to not love reading his stuff.

He's just put out a great article which explains why I'm fine giving away my music:
The economics of content creation are in fact fairly simple. The two critical questions are “Does the support come from the reader, or from an advertiser, patron, or the creator?” and “Is the support mandatory or voluntary?”

The internet adds no new possibilities. Instead, it simply shifts both answers strongly to the right. It makes all user-supported schemes harder, and all subsidized schemes easier. It likewise makes collecting fees harder, and soliciting donations easier. And these effects are multiplicative. The internet makes collecting mandatory user fees much harder, and makes voluntarily subsidy much easier.

I have friends who work full-time in the ministry and live off donations. They assemble a group of supporters who voluntarily give their money to put bread on their table whilest they do their work.

I figure one of three things will happen with the music I give away:

(1) Hardly anyone will download it. If not many people will download it for free, I sure as heck wouldn't have made a living charging for my stuff. (Unless I just do a really poor job of marketing the free stuff -- but then again, I ultimately trust God to handle marketing...)

(2) Tons of people will download it. In that case, I'll have a very large group of people to approach with the concept of starting a donations based ministry/living.

(3) Somewhere in the middle of the previous options. But this isn't really a separate option. Either it'll generate enough activity to enable me to stop doing computer programming for a living or it won't.

And really, this is the way it should be. My artistic endeavors should be used to serve others -- to do for them what they can't do for themselves. I don't deserve to make a living as an artist just because I'm passionate about it, or even if I was great at it. I should only make a living at it if there's a big enough need amongst those served by my art to afford me making a living with it.

Artists should serve the people, not the other way around.

(C.S. Lewis has an excellent essay about this topic that I need to reference here).



[Update 9/9/04]

Saw this today in a blog entry from a guy who has a free book on Python. Thought it was applicable:
Tom: “This is really good. You could probably make some money off this someday.”
Me: “Maybe, but I'm not going to. I'm giving it away for free.”
Tom: “Why would you do that?”
Me: “Because this is the way I want the world to work.”
Tom: “But the world doesn't work that way.”
Me: “Mine does.”



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