How Valuable is Free?

I've been noticing how the New York Times is spending a lot of newsprint and advertising space on offers for iconic photographs. You may have seen them for sale. I have always loved the construction workers sitting on the beam having lunch with NYC looking like it is a mile below them.

If you notice that photo, you'll see a copyright for both the photographer and the Bettman/Corbis archive. In this case, the photographer's estate is most likely getting paid when the image sells.

However, many of the iconic images you see for sale are the property of the newspaper. That's because the photographer was an employee and the photos were created as a "work for hire." The photographer got paid a salary and the paper owns the photos.

Recently many papers started using freelancers instead of employees which means the photographer owns the image and licenses it to the newspaper. But, that's not what the papers want. They want to own the photos and not have to pay a salary, benefits or other expenses that someone who owns their own business has to pay. That's what a freelancer is – a business person. So, the copyright wars continue and not just on photos but any kind of intellectual capital that someone creates.

You may one day need to hire a professional photographer. Many professionals will license you the images you need for a particular use. You'll pay just for usage which works out best for both the photographer and the business owner.

But, the web is now the land of the free which causes many people to flinch at paying for something they know is digital. As a result, some photographers are moving to a different model where the digital image is free. You pay for their creativity, experience and ability to deliver but not for the bits and bytes.

Speaking of free, I copyrighted my book and it is sold at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For less than $14 you can have a copy to hold in your hand, write in the margins and keep on your bookshelf. For less than $10 you can have one delivered to your Kindle. I also make it available for free as a PDF download. By the way, the secret password is LFSL2009. Don't tell anyone else.

The incremental cost of maintaining the PDF on a website and giving it away is infinitesimal. "Yeah," my web guy said, "but you're losing sales." I may lose a sale to someone who prefers to download and read it online or even print it out. But, for every person who does that there are more that talk about the book and, in the end, generate more sales and business for me. Word of mouth and my tribe building and spreading the story are worth free downloads over and over again.

And, that, makes FREE very valuable!

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