How Free Imprisons You

It’s either one of life’s cruel ironies or a brilliant example of the Golden Rule in practice, that the same unwillingness to pay for things on the internet—or the willingness to buy pirated material—may also be keeping you trapped in a job or career that you are indifferent to or hate.

You won’t even try to use the internet to go off on your own, to produce music, to write, or to create an application that solves problems for people etc., because you know that people won’t pay no matter how good your product, information or service is.

And how do you know that?

Because you yourself won’t pay for any product or service that you can take for free.

And what a pity.

Today’s technology now provides the opportunity for everyone of us to design careers and businesses that give us the freedom to work with people that we respect, and take vacations when we wish, while taking care of not only our basic concerns to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, but also to live passionate and fulfilled lives.

We all have the opportunity to flourish, but we don’t take that opportunity, and one of the reasons we don’t is our sense of entitlement to take what others produce without giving anything back.

That’s not what mama taught! (Or is it—see below.)

There are of course other important factors at play, like,

  • Corporations that resist pricing for the digital age, like book publishers charging close to bookstore prices for digital versions of their books (read greed), and
  • Your capacity to produce real value that your customers assess as worth at least the price you are asking; pricing that respects their ease of obtaining what you offer from somewhere else or by illegitimate means. This is not about building some sort of Internet socialist republic—although there are good arguments that it is.

Vision, drive, perseverance, as well as marketing and business skills are still essential to the success of You, Inc.

All I’m saying is that we are hobbling not running towards a world of passionate and fulfilled businesspeople, entrepreneurs and artists, with a major cause of our handicap being the conversations that we keep alive about Free.

  • “Free is a gimmick to get you to eventually buy something,”
  • “Free is the price of any social service that is meant for the public good,”
  • “My mother taught me to take anything that is free,”
  • “You’re stupid if you pay for something that you could get for free” and
  • “It is an individual’s right to take anything digital that can be taken for Free.”

This may sound like preaching or that I’m somehow above the behavior that I describe here, but rest assured that I’ve been guilty of taking advantage of “freeness” as well.

However, I’m just starting to observe these conversations, and their consequences.  And I can see the impact on myself, on what I would like to create for myself and others in the world every time I take without giving something back—which doesn’t always require money.

The economics of low price and high volume means that everyone can become autonomous; providing people are willing to pay for—or give something back for—the value that they are offered.

Think about that the next time you find yourself reflexively seeking a way to avoid paying even a token sum to someone offering you real value on the internet—a sum that you can afford.

In the end, you could be the biggest loser.


Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.