Thursday, December 1, 2011

Paid for content creation

Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are is writing about The Maker's Lament, the idea that the age of the professional content creator is over, because too many amateurs create too much content for free, or too cheaply. Quote: "Or perhaps the maker’s lament is really about this: there is too much choice. Any market in which you can choose from a million works (such as ebooks, iPhone apps, albums, etc) is one where standing out is vastly harder than it used to be".

That is mainly a problem of barriers to entry. If the only way to distribute written words is printed on paper in a book or flyer, only those who feel strongly enough about an issue to pay for that flyer, or those who think they can sell that book enough to make a profit are going to write. But if you can distribute written words by signing up for a free blogging service, forum, or social network, many more people are going to write. Supply goes up, demand not necessarily so, and thus the monetary market value of the written word goes down.

Tadhg thinks that Free2Play games offer a business model which can deal with this, and would be just as applicable to other media. Quote: "You could possibly do the same thing with a comic, or an album, or a series of short films on Youtube. Or indeed a game. The idea is the same though: Get the customer over the choice question by making it a non-choice. Let them decide if they like your world before they pay for it. Then let them pay according to how far they want to, not a ticket price which is the same for everyone." I don't think that it is that easy in reality, because not all mediums have the structure required which make a Free2Play model viable.

Take for example this blog. There are thousands of people who like this blog enough to visit it repeatedly. They "decided they like my world", or my opinions, or the manner in which I write my opinions enough to check in regularly or add me to their newsreader. But very few of them are willing to pay for this content. I received a grand total of 17 "buy Tobold a coffee" donations this year. Those contributed a lot to me feeling appreciated, but if I was a professional content creator, I'd be starving by now. I don't think I could get people to pay for my content if I put in a "pay to read after the break" paywall on my blog. Although my blog already is Free2Read with an optional pay model, this isn't a money maker. Adding typical Free2Play store items to the blog (As in "Get a sparkly commenter's name for just $10!". NOT A REAL OFFER!) probably wouldn't work either. Unlike people paying for a Free2Play game, my readers simply aren't invested enough in my blog to make paying for it seem attractive. If given the choice between having to pay or leaving, nearly all would leave for other blogs.

In the book Tadhg is referring to, Free Ride, there is talk of the market value of anything dropping towards its "marginal production cost", unless the distribution is controlled. While that isn't valid for everything, it appears to be valid for content like written opinions. As everybody has an opinion, many people like to share theirs, and distributing them over the internet has become so easy, their marginal production cost and value trends towards zero. That is a problem for people trying to write their opinions for a living. I've recently read a lament about professional game reviewers, whose hourly pay is less than minimum wages if you consider both the time spent playing games and writing about them. That comes to no surprise to an economist, as there are obviously enough people around who are willing to perform the same work for free (and sometimes produce better reviews in the process).

But that doesn't mean that there is no future in being paid for creating content. It only means you can't get paid for creating content which isn't better than what any amateur is already creating. If you create content like Minecraft, you can still get paid millions. Lots of authors, musicians, and other content creators are still getting paid, and some of them rather well. That it is hard to make money with journalism is very much related to the fact that professional journalism is so hard to distinguish from amateur journalism, quality-wise. If gamers rather read blogs to hear whether a new game is any good than to buy a print magazine, it is because they feel they wouldn't get a better value (or more honest opinion) out of the professional games magazine. Where Tadhg is right is that this resembles the Free2Play business model: Free2Play games that aren't much good end up a financial failure as well. If a content creator has problems making a lot of money, he has to ask himself whether he is actually creating any added value.

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