While Chris Anderson’s work concerning The Long Tail is well respected the prediction he has made that free is the future of business has drawn a lot of criticism and being described as a wrong prediction for many reasons.
Free Work will result in further alienation of labor
During the period when the industrial revolution started, Karl Marx brought forward the argument that workers ended up losing control of their labor under a capitalist system. This he said resulted in:
1) workers’ loss of humanity and being used more as machines
2) workers become less communal in spirit since their skills had become uniform and there was no longer any need to rely on each other’s individual or peculiar talents
3) loss of creativity and initiative as workers had to follow direct orders on what to do
4) loss of proprietary rights for any work produced
The growth of the Internet in the mid 1990s had held out the promise of allowing the original owners of works to have greater control over their labor and creativity. It was expected that musicians would have greater freedom without needing to be held down by record labels, writers would not need to be so dependent on getting their works approved by uninformed publishers and content creators could access audiences directly via the internet.
However, predictions such as the one made by Chris Anderson are based on the various methods which have been devised on the internet that influences how original content creators get paid for their work. This creates a further gap between the worker who should be the original payee and the end user or consumer of his work. A lot of problems usually arise as a result of this gap.
The strike by writers for instance was caused by lack of clarity on what should be fair terms of compensation in the digital industry. Lack of swift and adequate compensation resulted in loss of motivation and made content creators frustrated.
Free culture was started by geeks and they benefit more from it.
The LiveJournal which was started by Brad Fitzpatrick had initial been based on the premise of getting cartoonists to make sales of their comic via LiveJournal with proceeds been split amongst all concerned. However, LiveJournal at some point decided it was better to just directly lift off the comics without paying for them from feeds that syndicates used for supplying their cartoons to newspapers and other periodicals. The syndicates did eventually have to start taking the necessary steps to ensure feeds taken from them were removed from LiveJournal.
Geek, from the inception are typically not interested in paying for anything they make use of on the internet and since they formed a large bulk of the early users of the internet, it was easy for them to engrain “free” into internet culture.
For geeks copyright should be laid to rest and people should have access to be able to use anything they find on the internet. Although geeks have been active in ensuring that open source codes and programs are widely available on the internet, critics argue that open source does not harm the income streams of geeks rather it often enhances them. The free codes and applications help to promote and market the skills of the coders, especially in a niche that has few people in it. However, for other content creators such as writers or artistes giving out their work for free is a sure way to quick financial trouble.
Clearly, the free culture on the web is skewed heavily in favor of geeks and there is a need to ensure that emergence of a newer internet culture that would create a better balance that is beneficial to more people.
Setting things right
Creating the proper internet culture should include ensuring a better respect for copyright on the web and discouraging the willful stealing of content without paying for such. Content creators should receive the empowerment that makes them reap the right types of rewards and compensation for any of their work which has been used by others. They should also have adequate control on what content they want to give away free and those which are to be paid for.
Faulty precepts in Anderson’s “freenomics”
The free concept is one which has been around for a while though it may not occur in the exact form that Anderson predicts it. In most cases any free benefits come either as a direct or an indirect derivative of something that was paid for. For instance getting a much needed bathroom break at a MacDonalds joint after making a purchase from them is a freebie that will require no extra payments.
However, the above illustration could also be used to show that even for every supposed free thing; some form of payment is still made albeit for other non-free things.
Part of the basis for Anderson’s prediction is also predicated on marginal costs falling to zero. This however fails to take humans into the equation, for where there is a need for human employees, salary and wages will also come in hence marginal costs can not fall to zero.
While it is an accepted fact that the web and its culture would continue to evolve and become more complex in a lot of ways, freenomics certainly would not work for every user of the internet. Some people will always still need to be paid for work which they have done.