Should writers, musicians, and artists give away digital copies of their work for free?
In the last few weeks I’ve received a surge of requests from people wanting to republish blog posts we’ve published here. Most people have offered a link back to our website or the publicity that would come from being seen by their readers. But it’s rare for someone to offer to pay for our work.
Earlier this week Michael Hyatt wrote in a blog post:
When you put a price on something, you create value. Art that is offered freely without charge is often disregarded. In other words, if you, as the artist, don’t think it is worth anything, why should I? This is why I don’t think giving your work away for free is good for you or for recipient. If you believe in your work, charge for it.
Once upon a time
Once upon a time, the economy was simple. Everyone paid for newspapers, magazines, and books. The columnists, authors, and photographers that created the content got paid for their work. But those days are gone.
Digital media and the Internet have thrown the economy for creative work into chaos.
Now anyone can publish their creative work for free – on a blog, in an ebook, on Flickr, on YouTube. Electronic copies of articles, books, images, and video can be duplicated for free.
There are some amazing benefits to these developments. More people are able to share their creative work than ever before. Ideas and art spread around the world to millions of people overnight. It’s opened the door to new, innovative business models that were never possible before.
But, the downside is a lot of writers and artists are getting next to nothing for their work. Plummeting production and publishing costs have lowered the barrier to entry and resulted in an explosion in the supply of content that far exceeds demand. Many aspiring creatives give away their work for free to magazines, blogs, or websites in the hopes the publicity will help their careers. There’s even more pressure in the non-profit and Christian sectors where artists and writers are often expected to donate their time and art for the cause or for God.
5 Principles in Tension
Whether to charge for copies of your creative work and if so how much is a tough call because there are a number of principles that apply but pull in different directions. Your perspective on this issue probably has to do with how you prioritize these principles.
1) Generosity The generosity principle says, “It doesn’t cost me anything for others to copy my work, so why not give away copies for free?”
2) Value of art The value of art principle says, “My creations have value. I don’t want to cheapen my creations by giving them away for free. I also want people to value other people’s art. Digital copies may not cost me anything directly, but indirectly they devalue all art and I don’t want that.”
3) Mission The mission principle says, “I create for a purpose. I want to change the world. The more people who read/hear/see my work, the more perspectives and lives I can change. The mission is more important than the money.”
4) Support The support principle says, “I like the person or organization who wants to use my art, so I’m going to donate it to help them. But, I wouldn’t necessarily give it away to someone I don’t know or to an organization I don’t believe in.”
5) Stewardship The stewardship principle says, “I’ve been given a talent and I want to make the most of it. Getting paid for my creative work allows me to use and develop my talent more. In some cases, though, opportunities, relationships, and publicity may be worth more than cash. So, I want to evaluate each situation independently and determine which option will enable me to make the most of my talent.”
All of these principles are good. So, I don’t think there’s one right answer to this question. It depends on what you’re goals and priorities are.
Here at Christian Web Trends, I’d say the stewardship principle usually gets top billing but there are certain times when we give away content or guest blog to support others or because we believe the mission is most important. With my personal blog, Live Intentionally, the mission principle is dominant.
So, where do you stand on this issue with your art?
- Have you run into people who expect you to give away copies of your writing, music, images or other creative work for free? Do you find that frustrating?
- How do you deal with it? Do you give it away for free? Charge a fee?
- What principles weigh heaviest in your decisions?