The Price of Digital

While this post is written from an Indian perspective some of it applies irrespective of where in the world you are. I was recently in a conversation with someone, let’s call him Mr M who asked me “So, from where do you download music?” “I subscribe to a music streaming service” I said. He looked at me with an incredulous expression on his face. He also proceeded to admonish me, for paying for it, because I could have easily got a hacked APK of the service, that would let me use it for free.

What he was actually asking me was, which site do you download your free music from. Now, I am no saint or rich man who subscribes to a music streaming service because I feel entitled to do so. I do it because it’s simple, convenient and incredible value for money. In India subscribing to a music streaming service costs Rs 100 or for global reference ($1.56) a month. For less than what a coffee costs at Starbucks, I have access to 40 million songs. Even if we put the coffee aside for a second, I know people who drop upwards of Rs 50000 ($800) for a phone almost every year but will refuse to spend even Rs 10 or 1/5000th of that on an app.

Now the thing about the Starbucks or phone analogy is, drinking that coffee with that fancy phone in the other hand maybe a matter of pride. Most importantly however the coffee is a physical object. Unless you managed to somehow steal a Starbucks coffee, your not getting one without paying for it. You can’t watch a movie in the theater without paying for a ticket. Some of you may have managed to accomplish that in the nineties, but I’m pretty sure it’s next to impossible these days. So a physical object like a coffee or a physical experience like a theater movie that requires you to be present in a physical location will inherently have some value associated with it. Try as hard as you can. If you want it, you, or somebody else is paying for it.

Since the advent of the internet and the mp3 format a whole new generation of listeners at least here in India grew up believing that music is free. To even think of paying for it is considered foolish. The generation I grew up in is sort of a bridge between the two. We experienced the joys and sorrows of cassettes, CDs, Napster and dial up internet. What also happened is that I got into the creative field of video games. Also a form of digital entertainment. Equally hard to put to a price on.

When your livelihood depends on people paying for something digital that you create, it also makes you conscious of what you consume. When I go out to eat I could easily spend Rs 500 for a single person’s meal. So to spend Rs 500 for a game that I will easily enjoy for at least 10 hrs seems like a bargain in comparison. Just as a cook worked hard to prepare that meal for you, a bunch of hard working folks toiled away for years to make the game that you enjoy.

People assume sometimes that when it comes to the entertainment industry, most of them, whether singers, musicians, movie actors or video game developers lead an exotic lifestyle as visualized on TV or in magazines. The truth is very few earn the kind of money to support that kind of lifestyle. Even a media conglomerate like Disney earns a substantial amount of it’s revenues from it’s theme parks and resorts.

Sometimes people ask me how we earn money from the games that we release for free. I smile and say nothing. It wouldn’t be worthwhile to explain to every person who asked me that, the concepts of Free to Play game design. If I feel like the person deserves an answer I simply say “For every 100 people who play our game, there are 99 who believe that they deserve the game for free, there is that 100th person who gives us enough to compensate for the first 99”

 

It truly saddens me that we don’t do enough to support the creators of this world. Unlike food maybe, we can live without arts and entertainment. The question is would we want to live like that? So the next time you hesitate to spend money on something digital take a pause. Try to put it in perspective. Whether it lasted for a few minutes or hours, for those brief moments made your life a little bit better. Give a little back to the creators. All they really want to do is create something more for you.

 

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