Paid vs. Free Entertainment: A Case Study
February 20, 2013 | 12:28 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Techdirt has a great write-up about a British children’s author, Terry Deary, who is on a misguided campaign against libraries. Deary believes libraries are giving away entertainment for free; he also believes they are severely damaging the book publishing industry.
Techdirt’s Tim Cushing argues that, notwithstanding some of the fallacies the author is operating under, in fact, many forms of entertainment these days are indeed given away for free. And of course, many others are paid for…
I decided to have a quick think about the ‘entertainment’ we consume in my own household. How much of it do we pay for? How much of it is free? The results may surprise you. In nearly very category, we have free options, yet we also have things we pay for. And we have some things which could go either way.
In no particular order …
In the ‘free’ category are things like local weather, sports scores, blog feeds, basic local news and so on. In the pay category: my Zinio mags, his monthly baseball magazine, and an annual that he says ‘prepares’ him for his ‘baseball pool’ (whatever that means).
But there are some less obvious hybrids in this category too. He has his favorite podcast (Adam Carolla), and I have mine (Jillian Michaels), both of which we enjoy for free. But when Michaels has a new book or workout DVD, I buy it—and he asks for the Carolla books when he hears about a new one. So is this a ‘pay,’ or ‘for free’?
I don’t pay for music, period, because it doesn’t really interest me. I read on-the-go or put a podcast on, or else I listen to the same handful of songs I’ve had on CD, ripped to my computer, from my college days.
He doesn’t ‘pay’ for music either, in the sense of a download or a disc, because his tastes are too eclectic to own it all—but he does have a Sirius Satellite Radio in his car for which he pays a monthly fee, and he loves it. He never finds a shortage of things to listen to on that thing!
3. Movies and Television
This is another weird one. I do still buy physical DVDs, because most of my workout stuff comes that way. But we don’t buy TV shows or movies anymore because of Netflix (which, FYI, we pay for). When we do see a movie in the theater, it’s really more for the outing than anything else, but it’s gotten so expensive that we don’t go often.
We don’t have cable, nor do many of our friends, and for the most part, we don’t miss it. When we do stay in a hotel with cable, we are invariably horrified by what’s on. The Beloved does periodically make noises about what a nice gift it would be if somebody were to get him a subscription to MLB.com—he does miss the sports aspect of cable. But I worry that if I got him something like that, I’d never see him again!
4. Video Games
Yes, I download the occasional freebie iOS app. But for the most part, this is an entertainment category we pay for. He buys a handful of big-ticket Xbox games a year—games that retail for $40 and up—and we both check out the secondhand video game shop when we pass by it. He also pays for an Xbox Live membership.
I’m into the Nintendo DS/3DS system, and have about the same habits. I get a few new releases per year and pick up a few others second-hand. I just discovered the downloadable games in the Nintendo eshop, and I’ll occasionally throw $20 into that to download vintage Super Mario games. I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore gamer, but I do like to indulge from time to time.
I get books from the library and I read the classics too, but I do sometimes buy. When I do, it’s usually for something specialized that is not available through other channels. For instance, I do enjoy nonfiction in certain obscure categories, and will sometimes splurge above my usual spending limit. I also peruse the Kindle Deals of the Day page, but only occasionally find anything of interest. This year, I am mostly buying DRM-free, and that has curtailed my spending dramatically. All the new releases I’m getting are coming from the library.
As for the boy, his preferred genre is not well-represented at the library, so we do buy for him when he wants something. But given that he reads maybe six books a year, I’m not sure that’s such a big win for publishing.
So overall, I guess it all depends on how you look at it. If you are the iOS app developer who can’t get me to shell out for your game, or the midlister publishing at Amazon who isn’t getting my dollar, you might be despairing. But if you look at each genre as a whole industry, it’s a different story. We’re partaking in each and every pie. Our share might not be taken from the piece of the pie that you specifically made. But, aggregated as a sum total, each genre of entertainment is benefiting from me and mine.
A win? I guess it depends on who you ask. Sirius Radio is happy with us, but iTunes Music Store might not be. We don’t subscribe to the local newspaper, but each of us has specialty news publications for which we do pay. In the end, I think all this ‘digital versus not digital’ may be a smokescreen for the bigger issue, which is that media is not a special snowflake after all—it’s a product, just like anything else.
If you narrow your market and target your product to what that market wants, the market will pay for it.