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Schubart: Free Information

09/10/12 5:55PM By Bill Schubart
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(Host) There's a phrase, "Information wants to be free" that's still often heard in the world of new media technology. But writer and commentator Bill Schubart wonders how many authors, composers, or artists really want to give away the results of their creative endeavors.

(Schubart) "Information wants to be free." This charged statement purportedly originated with Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame. His catalog costs $147.20 in paperback from Amazon.

Public media sources all pay their content producers, acquire and maintain technology and staff, and ask only for donations - but less than 20% of their audience members respond .

I write books and I'm not interested in giving them away. I once owned a record company. Our artists wanted to get paid to record their music and wanted to be paid if it sold. We wanted to be paid to manufacture the LPs on which they were sold.

In fairness, Brand did not mean that all content should be free to everyone. He was referring to practical and scientific information that could advance quality of life for people globally. He also understood intellectual property rights, but a fundamental misunderstanding of his rallying cry persists today.

The issue is made worse by the gradual disappearance of hard media since consumer perception of information's value unfortunately lies in the medium rather than in its content.

The day after the Pulitzer Prize committee declined to declare a fiction winner. I woke up to an Amazon Kindle ad offering the three finalists for 99 cents each. First I was appalled, then angry, then sad.

I've had many intelligent friends ask me why an ebook shouldn't cost 99 cents or an MP3 file of a Bach concerto or rap tune cost what a single use to since it costs nothing to store or ship. I take a deep breath and explain that along with the seller of the medium or the digital download, the author, artist, filmmaker, or composer has a creative investment and should be paid for their creative endeavor. Sadly, it's an "aha moment" for many.

Imagine if publishers priced their books this way ...the content is worth $6.00, ebook delivery is $8.00, paperback $16 and hard cover $26. It would at least imply some value to the author's creativity.

Even in this digital age, hard media will not disappear except at the most basic commodity level. The aesthetic value of the medium bearing the content will continue to appeal to many. The value of a beautifully wrought book will endure.

The barrier-to-entry that traditional publishers have enjoyed is crumbling, making it easier for writers, musicians, filmmakers and artists to try their own hand at publicity and self- promotion, The stigma of "vanity publishing" is gone and many well-known artists have taken their own creativity in hand at the business level.

But the emerging challenge will be how to enable a willing customer to browse, navigate, and sample millions of uncurated and often appallingly bad new media releases to find the gems that a publisher used to select and your local book or record store used to reliably recommend to you.

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