The Internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the Internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap—they are free...
This made me think back to my pre-Internet days. While listening to a favorite band's song on the radio was free, getting access to that band's entire album usually meant buying it at the record store. Getting access to a new book meant either borrowing it from the library (if other voracious readers hadn't gotten to it first) or purchasing it from a bookstore.
Most people bought newspapers and magazines without reservation. Home delivery subscriptions — right to the front stoop — was often the preferred method of receiving them.
Before we knew what the World Wide Web was, we had free access to creative works, but that free access seemed a lesser alternative to owning an actual copy of that work. If we could afford a record, CD or book, we would buy it, and that money went to the creators — after a long line of creativity-related (sometimes) middling "middlemen" first took their cuts. We fans then had full access to our beloved works; we could listen to or read them at a whim and could share them as we wanted, within strictly defined technology boundaries (e.g., having access to a dual-cassette recorder or a wondrous Xerox machine).
While libraries had copies of periodicals and publications in "reading rooms", they would not let them to be checked out to take home. The only viable way to enjoy a magazine or paper was to buy a copy, and it was affordable.
Seeing how many media outlets now struggle daily to survive, as their collectives staffs work to produce content that Web users now expect to be free — yet costs real money to produce — I read Kelly's treatise very closely. In proposing what is "better than free", he describes "eight uncopyable values".
What are they? You'll have to read his manifesto to find out.
It is a concise, focused read. Solutions for this painful period of media transition are out there, and Kelly's eight "generatives" could be a basis for many of them.
If you create online content, are involved in social media, or just want to catch a glimpse of what the future may hold for media, reading it will be worth your while.
And, if you want to discuss "Better Than Free" after you read it, head back to this post and comment.