I’ve Got the Freebie Blues

My tech geekdom started in middle school. Consequently, I was there not necessarily for the beginning, but the early days of the Internet. I watched as early forums and chat rooms gave way to the commercialization of the web that we have today.

After moving out on my own for the first time, I did as many young people did and copied things I’d seen my parents do while growing up. For me, being a grown-up meant newspaper delivery. I decided on Sundays. To that, I added a couple magazines.

As the web grew, I saw first national, then local newspapers and magazines proudly touting their Internet presence. I had an epiphany then that I’m not sure others had, or if they did, were too scared to voice. That thought was: if they put the content online for free, who’ll buy it?

Fast forward a decade and the answer for many newspapers is, well, not very many folks.

After working in IT for many years, I decided to try my hand at app development. Two apps came out of that exercise and it became apparent that what was happening to the media had trickled down to the app developer community. I priced my apps at a measly .99 and sat by anxiously waiting for my sales to to match those of the fart app. While that didn’t happen, I learned something startling from an email I received from a disgruntled customer.

That customer suggested that it would be more kind of me to make the app free.

Yeah, hours spent learning to code, coding, testing, hair pulling, and tweaking. Hours spent packaging, marketing and bug fixing. All that labor, in this person’s mind, amounted to nothing. This customer and many others had somehow developed the opinion that one should not charge for hard work. Funny how most these folks would balk, no stage a protest at the thought of offering their services to their employers for free.

I came to writing much later than most – for me, a good thing, I doubt I had much of interest to say in my twenties. As a lifelong reader, I’d vehemently¬†supported authors: directly via bookstore purchases when I could and by requesting and checking out at the library when I couldn’t. It was a no-brainer. I found value in what they provided and common sense told me they wouldn’t be able to continue to do so for all my best wishes and warm thoughts.

I’m grateful that I live in a time¬†where writers have an opportunity to more directly connect with readers through self-publishing. Though for some this remains a dirty word, something they snigger about with their traditionally published brethren, we can no longer deny its viability as an alternative publishing platform.

But as always, there is a gotcha. Easy publishing = onslaught of books = writers desperate for readership. And you guessed it, to stand out, some authors have resorted to giving their work away for free. F R E E. Research, writing, editing, editing some more, tears, blood, and eye strain, and more editing for free??!!! Even .99 is an affront.

So, what’s a writer to do? Fight ’em tooth and nail? Demand a fair and living wage for your work or join the masses of freebie enthusiasts?