Monday, August 27, 2012

What should be free and what should I expect to pay for

One of the strange things about internet culture is the fact that people expect to pay for leisure materials such as music, movies and games - but they are very reluctant to pay for tools that they use to run their business.

The entertainment industry has been very vigilant in trying to ensure that people continue to expect to pay for their music. In Ireland the recording industry association managed to persuade artists to stop allowing their music be used on the free CDs distributed with Sunday newspapers. Although the newspapers were paying royalties, the association feared that the fact that the consumer was not explicitly paying for the music would create an expectation that music should be free.

In fact they were so successful in pushing the idea that music must be paid for, that many people are reluctant to download music from sites like the Free Music Archive because they fear that there must be  something dodgy about a site that allows free music downloads. Until recently there was a Russian company which undercut iTunes by offering tracks for 39 cents each rather than 99 cents - consumers who would never dream of pirating music were reassured by the fact that they had paid for the tracks, but it seems that the company was not passing on any royalties and simply pocketed all the money.

The market for office productivity tools is significantly different. You might expect that people would be willing to pay for these since they are typically used only in a business context, but the fact that some of the leading suites of productivity tools like Libre Office are available for free download leads consumers to expect that they don't need to pay for such products. I don't normally feel sorry for Microsoft, but it is very unlucky for them that not only do they loose market share to open source competitors, but the fact that these are available free of charge apparently makes people feel less guilty about pirating copies of Microsoft Office.

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