Monday, June 18, 2012

Digital ≠ Free

The statement that “Information wants to be free,” is attributed to Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand. Unfortunately, many consumers and even some digital activists today seem to forget that Brand’s very next utterance was “Information also wants to be expensive,” a truth known all too well by publishers, IT staff, and college stores and other content retailers.

As this post on The Scholarly Kitchen blog notes in great detail, the storage and delivery of digital content has costs. Maintenance of current digital warehousing and development of future methods both involve highly skilled professionals and complex equipment. Also—cat videos on YouTube notwithstanding—most content creators need or at least hope to be paid for their efforts. Even producing and disseminating those cat videos requires time, equipment, energy, and bandwidth. Add in backup and security.

“If there’s no place to put it, and nobody to manage it, does it exist?” asks blogger Kent Anderson. “Quick, find me all your five-year-old e-mails.”

The real price tag for digital goods may serve as a tempering response to those who demand free e-textbooks based on the notion that removing printing, binding, and shipping eliminates all the principal costs of creating course content.

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