This is a common concern that comes up in the Intellectual Property debate. Though some current means of getting paid for content creation rely on the state’s enforcement of IP laws, this is not the only way content creators can be paid:
- Freemium model – A cut down version of the service is available free, and if the user wants more advanced features, they pay for the premium service
- Crowdfunding / Assurance contract model e.g. Kickstarter – People enter into agreements to only fund the project if enough other people commit to funding it
- Voluntarily choosing to pay for content to support the creator
For a very large list, see Stephan Kinsella’s Examples of Ways Content Creators Can Profit Without Intellectual Property.
The Creator-Endorsed Mark as an Alternative to Copyright by Stephan Kinsella runs through specific possibilities:
Inventors invent to be first to market. Academics publish articles or books to enhance their reputation and increase their employability. Singers or musicians might give away recorded albums for free to gin up concert sales. Pharmaceutical companies, freed of enormous tax and regulatory (including the FDA) burdens would have much less need of a patent monopoly to help make up for these costs; and could profit from being first to market and reputation (notice that Tylenol still sells for about twice the price of the generics right next to it on the shelf?). Perfume and fashion thrive without IP. Open source software is plugging along. And so on. What about movies, or novels for profit? Various ideas have cropped up. Perhaps the author releases his first book for free to get a fan base; then withholds the sequel until a certain number of fans pledge to pay for the book. As for movies, perhaps they are released first in DRM format to elegant movie houses, before being released on DVD or digitally. (In Against Intellectual Property, n.67, I related the example of how drive in movie theaters, “faced with the prospect of free riders peering over the walls, installed—at considerable expense—individual speakers for each car, thus rendering the publicly available visual part of the movie of little interest.”) It is basically the task of entrepreneurship to figure out how to make a profit off of a given service, given the realities of costs of exclusion, ease of cheap substitutes, and so on.
At some level, this kind of question is missing the real problem in today’s age of the internet. With so many content creators out there, and the cost of producing content becoming so much cheaper – the real problem nowadays is avoiding obscurity.
Why do you give away your books?
Giving away ebooks gives me artistic, moral and commercial satisfaction. The commercial question is the one that comes up most often: how can you give away free ebooks and still make money?
For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity (thanks to Tim O’Reilly for this great aphorism). Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy. Mega-hit best-sellers in science fiction sell half a million copies — in a world where 175,000 attend the San Diego Comic Con alone, you’ve got to figure that most of the people who “like science fiction” (and related geeky stuff like comics, games, Linux, and so on) just don’t really buy books. I’m more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who’s in the tent bought a ticket to be there.
Or see this part:
So ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s tried giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.
So more accurately, in this day and age: First, worry about rising out of obscurity and then think about how to monetise your content.