Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
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The value of free
By Julian Joyce
Artists and companies are queuing up to hand out free CDs, DVDs and books. But with so much stuff being given away, is culture becoming devalued?
Prince has done it. Most of the national newspapers seem to do it every day.
Give stuff away for free, that is. And not just any old thing. Quality stuff you'd pay good money for in a shop.
The latest cultural philanthropists are Radiohead, who will release their next album as a digital download. In an unusual move for a major band, fans are being allowed to pay what they like. Even bids as low as a single penny - plus a 45p transaction fee - are accepted.
Other popular artists - like Prince and the Charlatans - are giving away their albums.
Outside the music industry, rival media groups are slugging it out for a share of the growing free newspaper market. Londoners can avail themselves of a free weekly sport magazine and the latest venture in this vein is a free men's magazine, distributed nationally to commuters.
Items being given away is the result of changing economics. The stratospheric rise in internet advertising as well as old-media phenomena like newspaper circulation battles, means "content" is increasingly seen as a tool to be used in a battle to obtain money for other things rather than just as an object for sale.
Terrestrial television stations in the UK - such as the BBC and Channel 4 - are even getting in on the act. Downloads of selected TV programmes are offered free after broadcast, although of course in the BBC's case the downloader has already paid for them in the form of the licence fee.
Along with the rise of illegal filesharing over the last decade, the growth of free content raises the possibility that there has been a sea change in the attitude of the consumer to the items of culture they hold...