My young-adult children have thousands of tunes on their iPods. I daresay that most of those tunes were obtained from friends or downloaded from music Web sites or MySpace.com — for free. Even my son, who's in the music business, has tons of free music downloaded on his laptop.
The music industry is struggling to find a new mode of distribution, one that involves actual profit accruing to record labels and artists. I wish them good luck, but I don't have much faith that they'll be able to do it.
The genie is out of the bottle. The Internet has lowered — or eliminated — the cost of almost everything. How'd you like to be in, say, the encyclopedia business, competing against Google? Or in the map-making business?
E-mail programs are now free. Browsers are free. Most software is now available in a free version. And now that free wireless is almost everywhere, you can say buh-bye, AOL. You haven't got mail. And you got trouble, too, Comcast.
There was a story on NPR this week about a photographer who made his living as an automobile "spy" — sneaking pictures of new Detroit models while they're still in the development stage and selling them to car magazines. He's retiring because there are now dozens of Web sites devoted to pictures of new cars — taken by amateurs. The cost to see or download those pictures? You guessed it: precisely nada.
I don't read most of the national news in The Commercial Appeal anymore, because I've read it the day before on the Internet. For free. I like holding a real paper while I have my morning coffee, so I pay for the CA in order to read the columnists and local news and sports. But I don't have to. I could just go to their Web site.
This is why newspapers are laying off reporters in droves and why so much is in flux. The generation coming of age now is used to getting its news, pictures, music, and entertainment for free. Those who figure out how to work the new system will prosper. Those who cling to the old modes of "free" enterprise are doomed to the slag heap of history.
By the way, how much did you pay for this paper?