Finding Value in a World of Free Stuff

200809122054.jpgThe modern internet is little more than two decades old, but we’ve adapted fast. Concepts that might have seemed preposterous a generation ago – instantaneous global communication, for example, or Google searches – have quickly become a part of everyday life. It’s been a remarkably smooth transition, for the most part.

But for people who create content, things have been a little bumpier. Artists, writers, musicians and other creative types have found that we need to rethink the rules for what we make. Our audience has new expectations. Digital content is immediate, abundant, easily archived and shared, and pretty much everyone wants it for free.

But what is free content worth? What, for example, is Pen & Link worth? I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

It’s an interesting question, and Kevin Kelly does a good job of putting it in perspective. He begins with the following premise:

1. When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.

2. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.

So what are these things that can’t be copied? Kelly calls them genatives, and he’s come up with a list of eight of them that provide a good roadmap for navigating the digital frontier.

Pen & Link, for example, might fall into the “findability” category, along with such stalwarts as TV Guide, which – as Mr. Kelly points out – once made more money than all of the 3 major TV networks it “guided” combined.

That’s an encouraging thought if I’ve ever heard one. Definitely worth a read.