What should we get for free?


“I got it for free!” How we love to boast about this. For me it’s a rare claim, usually born of luck. In contrast to those younger than me, who seem to see non-payment as the norm.

This is yet another of the many differences between my generation and the one below. The youth have different attitudes about what they are happy to pay for and what they think they should get for free.

“There’s no free lunch”

I grew up with this maxim drummed into me.

“‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ (alternatively, ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’ or other variants) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The acronyms TANSTAAFL, TINSTAAFL, and TNSTAAFL, are also used. The ‘free lunch’ in the saying refers to the nineteenth-century practice in American bars of offering a free lunch in order to entice drinking customers.”


No Free Lunch sign

We were endlessly told that whatever we wanted or needed had to be paid for. The younger generation has another view.

The News – what price, if any?

Take, for example, the newspaper you are reading. Many young people think that “the news” is something they should be able to get for free. Two-thirds of those surveyed by Reuters news agency earlier this year said they valued quality news – but were unwilling to pay for it. Not only with regard to buying or subscribing to newspapers. Most young people do not want to pay for online news.

men reading newspapers 1930s

These guys never complained about the price of their daily newspaper.

Who pays for music?

Something else that young people want but don’t want to pay for is music. As a result, the entire business model of the music industry is in flux. Musicians must now accept that sales of their albums alone will not sustain their careers. To profit from their productions they must go on tour and sell merchandise. Concert tickets and T-shirts seem to be among the things that young people are still willing to pay for.

Mick Jagger and Keith RIchards in concert

Pension plan for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and other aging rockers: live concerts til they drop

It’s all about “alternative monetization strategies”. The notion of people getting paid for something to be made is out of date. The ways that consumers deign to support producers of music, news, movies and other entertainment and information are a-changing.

Old School News

My New Old Self is okay with the traditional approach. To go back to Exhibit A, this newspaper in its present form suits me fine. After all these decades of subscribing to papers, I know the drill and I like it. There’s the early morning walk out the front door to see where the paper has been thrown. What a fine way to greet the day. I get a breath of fresh air and a check on the weather. I don’t mind even if it’s cool or rainy.

Next I like perusing the front page as I get ready for my morning read while the kettle boils. I enjoy delving into the paper over the day’s first cup of tea. I even relish ripping out articles and pictures I want to save. I am aware of the fact that my cherished routine will change, that the full and final move to digital media consumption is on the way. But until then…

To return to my point of departure, I accept that a small daily fee must be paid to cover the work of those who report, write and edit my daily news. To cover the cost of my daily ritual of tea drinking with newsprint.

To have and to hold

Maybe my willingness to accept the need to pay for things is related to my desire to “have” them. When you read news on a screen you don’t own it, you “access” it. When you rent or buy digital video online, you also never really “have” it.

CDs in clouds

On CD or In The Cloud?

I find it less satisfying for my news and entertainment to be located out of sight, somewhere in “the cloud”. Perhaps I am too tied to my physical possessions. I do enjoy admiring my collections, painstakingly gathered over the years. It feels good to see and touch my books, CDs and DVDs (and before that, records and videos). I like seeing them lined up on a shelf.

All you can stream

This is all changing with the continued shift towards digital consumption through what is called “streaming” of what is called “content”. Not now, or next year, but eventually and inevitably.

The industries that produce online content, e.g. music, movies and news, are hoping this will be a financially positive development. Streaming services charge a monthly fee – a small one, described by those charging it as a “micro-payment” or even “a bunch of pennies”. Then it’s like the All You Can Eat Buffet. Once you’ve paid the bargain price, you can consume as much as you want.

With this caveat: you will have what you stream, or download, only as long as you have access to wifi or a sim card, and you make your monthly payment. Should you fail to pay, your virtual collection of music, movies or news will be as good as gone.

All the selections you have made, all the playlists you have curated, will still exist but only on the private internet servers of your subscription service. Unless and until you continue making payments, the history of your entertainment and information choices will be lost to you.

Next question to ponder: does it matter?



Leave a Reply