Well, it made me laugh. I read that particular bumper sticker in an old copy of the Readers’ Digest at the doctor’s surgery one morning. It was nestled among the usual articles about obscure illnesses, heartwarming stories about dogs and the usual 10,000 adverts that somehow manage to be squeezed into such a tiny magazine.
Actually, I’ve been reading rather a lot lately; even more than usual, and usual for me is a lot. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve read (or re-read) Lessig’s Code, Anansi Boys, the first book of Wheel of Time, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (I know it’s not. Don’t ask.), Catcher in the Rye and a whole bucket-load of old Marvel UK comics penned by Dan Abnett (Force Works, War Machine, Deathshead, the brilliant Knights of Pendragon, etc). Thanks, Terry.
All these words got me thinking about the nature of digital media, ebooks and program code in particular. It’s a popular concept that code should be Free, as in Beer. Now, that’s great if you can find somewhere which offers free beer. If you do btw, please let me know
I’m all for free, especially when it comes to Open Source projects where there’s an ethical understanding between between coder and user that the reason the app is free is because it wants to be free, and it’s to the betterment of the code and society as a whole. Free is good. Very good, even.
The problem is that free is antithesis in the commercial world (though that’s changing, ohsoslowly), so maybe another analogy is needed. Instead of making digital media and applications Free as in Beer, make ‘em Priced like Food.
Let’s say you walk into a restaurant and order Spaghetti Cabonara. It’s good, you’re happy so pay the bill and leave a small tip for the service. Or not. It’s up to you.
On the other hand, if the spaghetti is overcooked or the sauce is cold you either refuse to pay, or request a replacement dish. If the waiter is rude (or you’re British), you don’t leave a tip.
In the digital media world, the same could apply. If you’re happy with the software/film/mp3/book after you’ve tried it, pay for it and walk away happy. If not, explain why and either walk away without charge, or get a replacement. Imagine if you could let Madonna know you didn’t like her last album, but would like her to replace it with a better one next time (at no charge), or Microsoft didn’t get a penny until their Operating system actually worked without demanding a supercomputer to power it?! Now, there’s a thought.
In this oh so ideal world, digital media would be treated as mere consumables (like restaurant food) instead of being squashed into some ill-fitted white goods concept. Photoshop isn’t a fridge, and shouldn’t be treated (or priced) as such. The mantra should be order, use, pay. Just like a restaurant, folks who abuse the system would be refused entry while the regular customers would be entitled to the best tables and discounts. Sure, there’d still be digital piracy, but when the usual channels shut down and prices drop to consumable levels, it’s less of an issue. Just like dumpster diving.
Of course, there’d still be the option of making your own for Free, so there’s still room for Open Source (open sauce?) in this idea but the two can live side-by-side. Ubuntu for breakfast, Windows for lunch.
This might sound a whole lot like the shareware concept, and it is. The difference is that this could apply across the board to all digital media whether it’s applications, music, movies, ebooks or whatever. Unlike shareware (which is more like tasting the wine before nodding to the waiter), the whole meal is delivered and served to be paid for only if you’re happy. No crippleware half-portions here. No siree.
To do this, prices would need to drop considerably. The $5 DVD should be the norm. The $2 album. The $20 Photoshop. Price them so they’re available to all and make sure that the quality is top notch to ensure the punters pay.
Because if they don’t, it’s back to the kitchens for you………
Hey, I can dream, can’t i?