Yo, what’s up, starving artist here. Guess what? I like to eat food. Trouble is, no one’s buying my shit. I haven’t eaten a square meal in days. I’m down to cooking my shoelaces on the tar when the sun comes out. I don’t know. Maybe it sucks. Maybe no one’s interested. Nobody’s got time. I understand. But I got another theory. It’s all about this thing called the internet, where you can, like, type a few words, and click your mouse a few times, and download basically whatever you want for free. Don’t get me wrong, I love the internet. I’m using the internet right now. I’ve downloaded hundreds, maybe even thousands of movies, because I can’t get netflix in Korea and the only dvd rental places around carry Transformers, Transformers 2, and Transformers 3, and that’s about it. I love movies, and I can’t help myself, and if I could pay a reasonable price for them, I would. In a heartbeat. Because there are hundreds or even thousands of people who make each one of these amazing things called films, and all of them have to eat, too. They do a great job most of the time and they deserve every penny of mine they get. Down to the last makeup artist. The last grip. The last gaffer. I love you guys.
This is the problem. The internet has spoiled me. I expect quality content, quality newspaper articles, quality magazine articles, quality blog posts, and quality movies costing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, for free. I don’t want to pay for any of that shit, because if I can get it for free, why shouldn’t I? I mean, who cares if these talented journalists get turned out onto the street just because they aren’t willing to work for free? I expect free quality entertainment, and if I don’t get it here then I’m going to go somewhere else. It’s the same thing with food, construction, transportation, electricity, police and fire protection, insurance, whatever. I expect all of it to be free. And handed to me on a silver platter. Thanks to the internet.
You heard about Aaron Swartz? This guy made reddit and RSS. He was a pretty smart dude. Only now I have to write about him using the past tense because he killed himself after getting his ass busted for trying to make all of JSTOR’s data into a free torrent. Now I’ll be the first to admit that the punishment the government was chasing after was way too severe (20+ years for downloading academic journals?), but goddamn, this guy, Aaron, he broke the law and he stole. It’s just like those stupid videos that come on before movies telling us PIRACY IS STEALING: you wouldn’t walk into a video store and steal a dvd, so why are you downloading all those torrents? It’s the same goddamn thing.
But just like Aaron Swartz, I’m all about transparency and freedom of information. I wish there was a goddamn camera jammed into the ass of every last member of Congress, every single Supreme Court Justice, and every last worker in The White House, from the president down to the gardener, and I wish you could watch all of these cameras at the same time from a single webpage. That would be awesome. I wish people in the poorest third world village on Earth had 24/7 access to wikipedia. That would be great too. But something’s got to give. You can’t expect good movies, good newspapers, good magazines, and good books, to be free. Not when the people who make them need to eat. Even the dudes behind facebook are scared of making you pay a couple of bucks a month to use their website—which is obviously one of the best ever designed—because they know that millions of you guys will ditch them in a heartbeat for some other facebook-like service which makes money by jamming farmville ads down your throat. Seriously. It’s just a couple of bucks. And facebook is awesome. No question. A billion people signed up for it. Yet that whole company would go the way of the dodo the moment it announced that it was abandoning ads and sponsored posts in favor of subscriptions. Because they’ve already spoiled y’all with endless reams of free shit.
The internet is a two-edged sword, offering more free entertainment than anyone could possibly consume, while making it harder than ever for people to pay for their food when they’ve created an app or an ebook or a website that’s actually pretty good. So, much as I despise the fascists who churn out The Washington Post, and much as hell will freeze over and much as the Devil himself will turn into a cherry-flavored popsicle long before I even think of glancing at one of their free articles, I’m glad they just decided to charge money for their content. I’m glad The New York Times does the same thing. Most of The New Yorker has been locked up from the beginning. I hope The Atlantic follows suit. I hope this race to the bottom has finally bottomed out. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, and every other insanely popular website that’s worth at least a couple of your dollars a month, should charge money for their services—they shouldn’t be free, because free things are (monetarily-speaking) worthless, and these websites aren’t worthless in the slightest. They should stop posting ads and start charging money. And you guys should pay.
Like I said at the beginning, maybe my book sucks. Maybe I didn’t advertise enough. Maybe nobody cares about my shit at all. Whatever, that’s cool. People got their own problems. But maybe there’s another factor here. Maybe people don’t want to shell out a few bucks for my book, because why should they pay for the few hours of entertainment it offers when they can troll the vast reaches of the internet for free? Why should any artist be able to live off of his or her art at all?