Whoa! The genie is out of the bottle. This weblog thing is transforming publishing or as Clay Shirky says, "the shift in publishing power is epochal and accelerating". Now that average Janes and Joes can self-publish practically for free, they are flooding the market with free content because they aren't publishers who need to make a profit and recoup their content, printing and distribution costs, they're "artists with printing presses".
Clay Shirky published Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content on Sept 5 in his Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list. He explains why the cheapness of micropayments isn't going to lure websurfers into paying for content.
His first reason is that surfers experience what Nick Szabo describes as mental transaction costs:
The function of prices, from the point of view of a shopper, is to let the shopper map his personal resources (budget) to his personal values (unique and not directly observable). This mental process requires comparison of the purchase price of a good to its personal value. This entails a significant mental cost, which sets the most basic lower bounds on transaction costs. [The Mental Accounting Barrier to Micropayments, 1996]
The second reason is the one that really fires me up, creative people want to express themselves and be heard! Here's some good stuff from Clay's article:
The fact that digital content can be distributed for no additional cost does not explain the huge number of creative people who make their work available for free. After all, they are still investing their time without being paid back. Why?
The answer is simple: creators are not publishers, and putting the power to publish directly into their hands does not make them publishers. It makes them artists with printing presses. This matters because creative people crave attention in a way publishers do not. Prior to the internet, this didn't make much difference. The expense of publishing and distributing printed material is too great for it to be given away freely and in unlimited quantities -- even vanity press books come with a price tag. Now, however, a single individual can serve an audience in the hundreds of thousands, as a hobby, with nary a publisher in sight.
This disrupts the old equation of "fame and fortune." For an author to be famous, many people had to have read, and therefore paid for, his or her books. Fortune was a side-effect of attaining fame. Now, with the power to publish directly in their hands, many creative people face a dilemma they've never had before: fame vs fortune...
For a creator more interested in attention than income, free makes sense. In a regime where most of the participants are charging, freeing your content gives you a competitive advantage. And, as the drunks say, you can't fall off the floor. Anyone offering content free gains an advantage that can't be beaten...
Getting slightly famous is the new game in town and it fits neatly into the security-gap created by the death of the good job.