Should information be free?

One of the arguments that Walter Isaacson makes with regard to charging for online content is this:

… those who believe that all content should be free should reflect on who will open bureaus in Baghdad or be able to fly off as freelancers to report in Rwanda under such a system.

I say this not because I am “evil,” which is the description my daughter slings at those who want to charge for their Web content, music or apps. Instead, I say this because my daughter is very creative, and when she gets older, I want her to get paid for producing really neat stuff rather than come to me for money or decide that it makes more sense to be an investment banker.

As a producer of creative work myself, I’m inclined to agree: I don’t want to be a struggling artist, or worse, not producing art at all. At the same, I’m quite perturbed by Isaacson’s stand, for if he had had his way a long time ago, I wouldn’t have reached this stage of my life.

This is because I wouldn’t have had a chance to read widely, and the main reason for my reading widely is because of the Internet, and not having to pay for information on the Internet. So what happens when one starts charging for content then? The laws of demand and supply dictate that some consumers will end up foregoing this content, for whatever reasons might occur. That’s not a pleasant thought in my humble opinion – although I can afford to pay for content now, what about people who will benefit from free information but are unable to pay at this point in time?

I think there’s a middle ground, and the current Straits Times model might be it – let consumers who value the timeliness of news pay a premium for it. Personally, I’m fine with news coming in late; it isn’t important for the news I’m interested in to arrive fresh off the press, and besides, reading blogs does help ameliorate this possible drawback.

I’m not kidding, by the way. Previously, I used to listen to The Mr Brown Show (TMBS) to get my news. My rationale was that the jokes I didn’t get were the gaps in my knowledge which I needed to fill, since satire and parody have to reference real-life events in order for them to work. Now I have Google Reader to aggregate information for me. That’s why I love technology, or tek-no-lo-ghee, as a character on TMBS might call it.

At the same time, Cherian George has written a very thoughtful piece entitled The Future of Journalism in a Post-Newspaper World. It throws up very interesting ideas about the way to go for journalism, including government intervention, if you consider the educational aspect of information as a public good.

For now, I’m just going to read voraciously, as a form of me shaking my fist defiantly at impending doom. Or maybe it’s just the Singaporean in me taking advantage of the freebies. Whatever lah. Anyway, I have miles to go before I sleep, so I’ll do my work first before reading the news.

P.S. On that note, this is duh news I think everyone should read. Okaybye.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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