If People Can Get It For Free, Why Would They Pay?

For quite a lot of people, if they can get it for free, why would they pay?

Is there a lot of people whom buys a collection sticker of their favorite artists or musicians? K-pop singer? Yes, quite a number. It’s a collectible, something they could collect physically and keep it somewhere. One would like to say only the rich can do this, but it’s not necessary. People might earn quite little but spend their whole income on certain things that they can’t escape their addictions with. By addictions, one don’t necessarily mean drugs, although that could be a case. Addiction towards collecting favorite K-pop singer at a super-expensive price is considered another.

Then people want to spend it on necessary things only. For example, food, drinks, rental fee. Perhaps they are on a budget, and they can only afford enough for these fundamentals. And consider how fundamental things (food, water, shelter) increases in price while salary stays the same, it’s reasonable to trigger a budgeting mechanism to spend only on things necessary, even if they could afford other luxuries like books. A consideration to save the money instead of spending on luxuries is, if not for stinginess, preparing for emergencies. No one knows if they would earn less than what they need to pay the next moment.

And that includes collectibles, and one mean NFTs. Who spend the most on NFTs? Those that don’t have financial crisis. Well, maybe plus those that are willing to spend their remaining fortune on something they’re addicted to too! But mostly, we wouldn’t expect people to spend money on things that are available for free. Let’s just say books: if they could get it for free from their library, why would they want to buy a new one? And books are doomed to be pirated. When a book becomes popular, people will find a way to make it free publicly, even if it means pirating the contents. And say, music and movies? Piration on YouTube even if it gets taken down soon. It’s unknown to me why someone spending money on the content wants to make it publicly free, what are their motives, perhaps to share their joy. And “Give and Take” by Adam Grant suggests people whom are a giver would be more successful: so perhaps these are successful person that gets them pirated as a gift for others that cannot afford the contents.

Another reason is, as one experienced it before, a strong possessive behavior. A library book is possessed by everyone; and the person refuses to share it with others, so buying the book is necessary for that person.

Overall, books are expensive. Especially most books are read only once and lies on your shelf forever, they’re expensive to keep. It’s likely that, after you read the book, you say, “aha, this book helped my life, and one would like to share it to others”. A library is designed for this, except with limited copies. A pirating website is designed for this, except with unlimited copies. If you’re on a budget, you only have this much money to spend on these much books; and if you read more books than you can buy, certainly you would find other way to get access to these books instead of giving up reading the book, legally or illegally. And it’s not limited to books. Musics and Movies are the same thing.

And that’s a flaw in content-locking design.

By all means, a fiction book, a movie or music, locked behind bars, only accessed by paid members, are doomed to be pirated, if not now, next time. They can only lock for this long before people find a way to get access to them. To fight against, we build walls after walls after walls to protect the content. Copyrights, Restrictions, Access Rights, Whatever Rights, Whatever Terms and Conditions, lots of walls. Whatever that’s out most probably can never get back in. When you sell something for the first time, the content is now “publicly available” and perhaps not retrievable. Therefore, it’s time to think about how to sell things other than contents. Anyway, that’s not the topic of this chapter, so we’ll leave you to creatively think about it.

Going back to the topic, web3 strives for openness. NFTs doesn’t sell their contents! One assumes they’re no copyright, since it’s public? I don’t know. Music NFTs are open for everyone to listen. Art NFTs are open for everyone to see. Books NFT are more like a library: opening up to everyone; and this include blog post like this post you’re reading now. If anyone could access it for free, why would someone wants to collect it? And consider the case we look above: being on a budget, why would someone wants to spend money if they could read it for free, listen to it for free?

Perhaps for art NFT, it’s not too difficult to guess. Art have been a sole single-copy object even before industrial revolution. Only a single person can keep the art. If the owner decides to publicize the work after they bought it, they could put in their gallery, accepting anyone to pay a visit and look at the work, for free or paid entry. Similarly, on the blockchain, anyone could buy an artwork as a single copy, because that’s what NFT does. Except that, they could never make it private. The artwork are stored on the public IPFS by default, so anyone can certainly access the artwork and download a copy of it. Though, NFT could link to a private content url, like Google Drive where you can restrict access; but web3 strives for openness, it would be weird to do that, although it’s not impossible.

But for multiple-copy works like music and books? In the past, when we can only read physical books, people might choose to read at the store. If the store don’t mind, you get pass. If they mind, security might come beating you up and chase you out of the store, perhaps getting to their blacklist. Alternatively, you could visit a library to read the book, if they have a currently-available copy. Nowadays, internet makes things easy to share, so you know how it goes. That includes for music and others. And on the blockchain, if we share the content directly on the blockchain, it’ll be open. Certainly, buying a copyright sounds weird… anyone could tweak the contents a little and become theirs. And collecting the work as an NFT? It’s something that’s still bugging me, even if one understands how it works and why it works.

What bugs me is, if anyone could get it for free, why would they choose to buy it?

Let’s strengthen what we’re calling for. If only the top few percent richest could afford to spend money as they wish, hence would buy and collect, why would they buy your books? Or your music? Consider how many artists and author decides for self-publishing; and there are just lots of works out there, but having little audiences. Most audiences aggregates around the already-popular members; and new artists might get to the top if they get pulled by already-popular members. Others remain at the bottom.

And if you have lots of readers, it doesn’t guarantee you earn. Because only the top few percent can afford to collect, these top few percents, not everyone read books, and not everyone listen to English music (as preferred to their language’s music), and not everyone watch movies (at least I don’t, unless with a friend, and netflix is boring to me). These top few percents have limited time, limited attention. An average work wouldn’t reach them, most probably. They also have other things to do, like continue working. Even if they read books/listen to music 24h per day, forever, there are much more contents being created than they have their audience(s). <-- It’s a singular because it may only have one audience, perhaps none.


Most people will take advantage that things are free online. Some people will be a giver and prefer to make things free for everyone online. It’s a weird phenomena: whether your work will ever have a paid audience. People don’t mind spending their time for free contents; but it’s unsure whether people are willing to pay for paid contents. And certainly there are people willing to, but how much are they from an average income family is another question. How much are most of the world willing to spend on buying a book as a luxury? Plus, collection of NFTs are something that aren’t physical, unless it has some links to physical objects; it’s a question whether people really want to collect it at all.

And the extra question is: how many people that buy books adopt web3?

So if you know, perhaps you could tell me more, and give me some feedback too? Welcome to tag me on Twitter with your understandings; or start a short post on read.cash by tagging me with your understandings.

Hope you have fun reading!

Subscribe to Wabinab
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.