16 November 2012


Michael O'Hare at the Reality Based Community asks with rising panic how we will pay for content in the future.

We are like Wile E. Coyote running in the air and not realizing what’s already ordained

The big problem here is the divergence between the cost of quality content and the price it should be sold for. The former is as high as its ever been, maybe even a little higher because of Baumol disease, but the instant content moved to the web the right price became zero. Trying to sell it for a price that covers average cost means enormous waste, and may not even be possible, even though the total value it would create is vastly greater than its cost.

Nonprofits giving grants, underpaid writers doing their work for love, and the rags we still call newspapers give the illusion that we’re just going through an awkward adjustment period, but it’s an illusion. We are in big trouble. Content is the most important thing in the world; if we don’t figure out how to pay properly for it, we won’t have it.


We have solved this problem before: outside my house is a sidewalk that cost something to make and that I don’t pay to walk on. Information is a little more complicated, because while the city does well enough deciding what to make the sidewalk out of and how wide it should be, I don’t want it choosing my content (or keeping track of what I’m reading). But whining about how content is property, or yelling “socialism” at a public goods scheme for distributing content free and paying for it according to how much it’s used, is infantile behavior and profoundly dangerous for everything – everything – that makes life worth living.

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