Once again, I’m commenting some French snippet of news. In a blog entry called Gratuit donc volé (Free therefore stolen), the writer Pierre Assouline blogs on a recent book of opinions written by no one else but the owner of FNAC, a huge book/media retailer, a French equivalent to Barnes & Nobles.
What’s the thesis of the book? Basically that the free access to cultural creation is undermining creation itself. This is a debate we have heard here in the US from proponents of DRM and other related technologies. Microsoft has been a heavy promoter in that area and when you see anyone’s interest aligning with those of Bill Gates, your BS alarm should go off. Mine did.
Once again, someone is getting a knee jerk reaction on “free” but the core of the problem actually is not “free” (as in “free beer”), it’s the fact that the cost of reproduction and diffusion is fast approaching zero. With that in mind, it’s perfectly normal that consumers ask to get that cost saving and productivity gain back in the price they pay for the goods.
I’ve no problem paying to the artists what they were used to make on the sale of a CD or book. I’ve even no problem with paying the service provider running the servers and other architecture to deliver the goods. I have a problem though to see the price unchanged compared to a CD or a paper book, a medium on which I have none of the limitation added to it by DRM: I can loan it to someone, I can trade it, I can even resell it in a garage sale or a “used” shop. If I pay that price despite the fact that the reproduction cost is nil, I want those rights too.
So what I’d like to see is the B&N of the world transforming themselves and becoming digital goods providers and passing back part of the saving to us consumers. When that’s done, I’m fine chatting again about the virtues and evil of “free”… as in “free beer”…