Here we are with Post #3 of this series. And I owe a big debt of thanks to Elizabeth Drouillard for helping me find a coherent way to express all the things I wanted to say. If you’re interested in the rest of the series, here’s Post #1 and Post #2.
As promised, in this post, I’ll talk about the non-monetary benefits of Free.
…But I want to dig a little deeper than merely listing the ways that Free benefits us, because I suspect that we’re all more or less aware of them. Instead, maybe it’s better to look at the non-money side of Free from two different perspectives: that of someone who produces Free, and that of someone who consumes Free.
So, for producers of Free…
I’ll be the first to say that creating Free stuff and giving it to your community is both lots of fun and extremely rewarding. Free can bring us blog-friends. It can bring us opportunities to contribute to books, magazines and websites – sometimes, even, for pay. Free can bring us lots of readers and blog traffic. It also brings us a joy in sharing things we love making with like-minded souls.
(If you’re interested, I posted a while back about all the joys and opportunities this very blog has brought me.)
I think, too, that when you’re new to blogging or new to running a small crafty business, Free gives you the space and discipline to build your skills. The more Free tutorials you make, the better you’ll get at making tutorials, until eventually you’re good enough to offer this service professionally – or self-publish your work. The more you write for Free, the better you’ll get at writing. Ditto for photography, illustration, and any crafty skill you want to name.
Instead of toiling away in our studios waiting to be discovered, we have the opportunity to share our growth with others, and use their feedback to become better and better. That’s immensely powerful.
…But it’s also very likely that, after you’ve been growing your skills via Free for a while, you’ll reach a point where one of two things happens:
• You simply run out of time or inclination to keep making Free, and move on to other interests.
• You find that you can’t keep putting your time into making Free, because it encroaches too much on the time you also need to make a living.
So, referring back to the first post in this series: early on, the time and effort you put into making Free are well-compensated by the growth you’re experiencing in your skills and community. The equation is balanced at first, and then it begins to unbalance.
I have tried to give a lot of Free to this community for nearly six years now. And I am here to tell you, there comes a point where you simply have to look at all the hours that are going into Free, and think about how you’re being compensated for all that effort. Sooner or later, no matter how wonderful the projects are, and no matter how fun it is to participate with your fellow crafters, you get worn out.
It’s hard to imagine this happening from such a joyous experience as sharing Free, and it may take years for it to happen to you, but eventually, it happens.
So the question is, what comes next?
Now, if you’re a consumer of Free…
Let’s face it, we’re ALL consumers of Free. How can we not be? Free is absolutely everywhere online. Are you using a free email service? A free blogging platform? A free email newsletter service? Did you learn to whip stitch or cast on for free from a YouTube video? Yeah, me too.
There’s so much Free, in fact, that it would be extremely hard for most of us to try and pay for all of the stuff we depend on for Free. That doesn’t make you or me or anyone else a bad person. We’re just living, I think, in a bubble of Free right now. The web at large is struggling to find the same balance I’m talking about – how to give something away while still finding enough compensation to keep it up.
The other part of this discussion is that unfortunately, so much of what goes on behind the Free we enjoy is invisible to us. Imagine for a moment the last craft-blog tutorial you scanned through. There’s a lot of human effort there:
- The blogger had to design the project.
- The blogger had to make a prototype.
- Then, he or she had to set up and photograph each step of the process.
- Then came the writing of all the steps.
- And then, the editing – both of the photos and the text.
- And finally, uploading all that material to a blog and arranging it so it’s easy to follow.
Think about your free email service. Or your free blogging platform. Or the video that taught you how to use Twitter. Or Twitter itself. We may take in the content of a web page in a matter of seconds or minutes, but it’s also the product of hours and hours of someone else’s work.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of an army of people we’ll likely never know, we consumers of Free are absolutely wealthy in access to knowledge and inspiration. Do we want this era to continue?
Well, then I think we consumers need to find ways to balance more equations. And this doesn’t have to happen with money all the time. You never know when the friendly comment you leave on someone’s blog will make the difference between them quitting blogging or continuing. You never know when your five dollar purchase in someone’s online store will make the difference in them being able to pay the gas bill this month. You never know when the link you share on Twitter or Facebook will set off a chain of events that might really help someone’s career. No matter who you are, you are a crucial part of this community.
In other words, if you’re still lurking on the web, then it’s time to stop. We’re all eagerly waiting for your friendly voice of support. You don’t have to say anything fancy, but if you’re getting something good from all this Free, please – speak up!
(I think it bears repeating here: there’s so much Free out there, none of us can possibly compensate every single bit we’re enjoying – even through non-money means. We all have to make some hard choices as to who we can support, and how.)
…But with that said, if you’ll forgive me, I want to say something just a little incendiary.
As I mentioned earlier, producers of Free, over time, become worn out. Realistically, if all the producers who are struggling with the sustainability of Free right now simply quit blogging tomorrow, there’d be a whole new crop of producers who are more than happy to crank out Free. When they’re exhausted, there’ll be another crop. And, for better or worse, there will always be healthy numbers of internet consumers who are happy to eat up all this Free and give nothing in return – while being totally unaware that there’s anything wrong with that.
And so I have to ask: do we really want our banquet of Free to come from the backs of whoever hasn’t been worn out yet?
What about sharing for the sake of sharing, then?
First of all, I believe strongly in sharing for the sake of sharing. The last thing I want is for all the Free to start disappearing behind paywalls.
Ideally, I’d love to see more producers being able to keep up streams of Free alongside streams of Paid – a self-sustaining cycle of sharing and support, if you will.
I’ve heard from a number of consumers of Free in comments and emails as a result of this series. Interestingly, they have very different opinions as to how the Paid might happen:
• Some say the only way to do Paid is to offer products and services to crafters, but keep all blog content Free.
• Others say the best option is to chip in little bits at a time, via blog donation buttons or micropayments.
• Still others say that crafters may not have anything that other crafters want to buy, and so the best option is to find non-crafters who will pay for products and services.
• And still others say that nobody should be trying to get paid for blogging, and sharing for the sake of sharing will eventually lead to paid opportunities from corporations.
So clearly, there won’t be any single solution to the problem of balancing the equation. What might help, though, is for more of us producers to be honest about what we need in order to keep producing – and then speak up about it. Since each of us needs slightly different compensation, I think this would really help more consumers understand how to best support the people who give value for Free.
As usual, I find myself at the end of this post struggling with how much more there is to say. But again, I think we need to keep this discussion chunked down. So here are my questions for you this time:
• If you’re a producer, what, honestly, would you need from your readers in order to keep your stream of Free sustainable?
• And if you’re a consumer, in what ways (non-monetary or otherwise) WOULD you be willing to support the handful of blogs you love most?