Why Free? – Economics of Art in the Digital Age

Free Audio Drama

We’re often asked: when are you going to start charging for downloads?!

Well, my philosophy is simple. I want more people to hear this work, not to earn a few extra dollars per month.

Combine that attitude with the freeconomics of digital distribution and you start to come to the unusual economic path that is FinalRune.

A few years back I tried the experiment of charging for downloads – $1.99 for an MP3 of Fall of the Hero or Blind Man’s Confession, which I thought was pretty reasonable – barely more than a song, and ten times as long!

The phenomenon? We went from several hundred downloads per week to practically none. I had maybe $10 more at the end of the month, but was failing at my bigger mission, which is to further the medium of audio drama and get people interested in my work.

Since then, everything’s been free and downloads have really shot up – even before the Wall Street Journal we’d average about 1000 downloads a month, meanwhile, Radio Drama Revival gets upwards of 10,000 downloads a month!

The lesson? It’s not hard to give away good content. And making this freely available is at least part of the reason we ended up in The Wall Street Journal to begin with – and how can you put a price on that?

But let’s examine the question a bit more deeply.

Making the product freely available, without the foggiest expectation of pay, seems a bit ludicrous on the surface. The productions do, after all, cost money to make!

I’ve never bothered to track how many hours it takes me to write, cast, record, post-produce and market this work, but even myself aside we have actors, musicians, and a recordist who all show up when we produce this, and lately I’ve taken to paying these people!

But my underlying motivation is not to earn a buck, it’s to create good art.

Free as a Business Model

While in our economy it is an implied assumption that if something is given away for free, it must not have value (or else that value must be picked up by another party, e.g. advertisers), to me, it’s very different: I am going to do this anyways, because I love it. Because I’m hard-wired to tell stories.

Ask pretty much any artist, and you’ll run into the same attitude, just varying extents of how much they’ve accepted the economic reality of our society. We can choose to go the way of the record companies, fighting tooth and nail to stop our audience from getting content the way that makes sense and is convenient for them, or we can choose to embrace digital technology and forge a different path.

So, all that being said, am I allergic to money? No. I’m in the process of looking for grants and other sources of funds to finance new productions – not because I’m sick of paying for it out of pocket, but only because my pockets are so small!

It’s very possible that out of some of these new funding options we will create content that’s not free – paid podcasts, commercially released audiobooks, etc. – FinalRune will always be creating some sort of free product in the interests of attracting, entertaining, and retaining new listeners.

Cash Isn’t The Only Way to Get Rich

Let it be said that even when you don’t receive cash, you can receive payment that is richer than gold. Here’s what some listeners have said to us lately:

“My job is boring – boring – boring. What gets me through is listening to MP3 downloads … Found your website and…. all I have to say is Thank You. You made my days a little better.”

“I love the work you do. To me radio is everything… When I was born back in 1955 I was legally blind. Radio to me was my entire “field of vision” … I hope this helps get the message out that the ‘audio arts’ are alive and well and living in our hEARtS”

Last but not least, the pitch: some listeners are so kind that with no request to do so at all, they have sent us some money. To these people, I bow low and offer my sincerest thanks. These generous donations make a tangible difference in our ability to make new shows!

If you believe in what we’re doing, and want to help both fund new audio drama, won’t you send us whatever you can afford? You can donate safely using Paypal:

Donate to FinalRune

But if you can’t swing it, don’t worry. We’re still going to make these shows, and they’re still going to be free. Free as in beer.