Willing to Pay, by Steve Safran

What do we still value enough to spend real dollars to acquire? What do we assume we can get for free? Stevie explores knowledge as a commodity in our Google-able world.


 “Irony: Telling me $10 is too much to pay for something I worked a year on, while drinking a $5 coffee the barrister spent 30 seconds making.”

Tweet, James S.A. Corey, author, “Cibola Burn”

My God, that’s about the most wonderful quote I’ve ever read about the frustration of being in the creativity business. We’re living in an age when it’s reasonable to slap a 99-cent price tag on an app that, in the very recent past, would have required a calculator, legal pad, un-refoldable map, $15, and hours of your time. People today think it’s a matter of principle that they will not pay for music. A t-shirt featuring my favorite band? Sure, I’ll buy that. Their songs? Screw that.

A good chunk of my career has been spent in the advice business. This is known as “consulting,” or as a Freudian typo I once made and came to embrace, “consluting.” The problem with knowledge being your product is that people are loath to pay for it. Drs. Britt and Bernie surely know this. No, it doesn’t cost me anything to tell you what I think about social media or how it might affect your company. No, it doesn’t cost Britt or Bernie to give you a medical opinion. But if you added up the price of all of that schooling, overnights at work, lost time at home, relationship stresses, ramen noodle meals, missed birthdays, and student loan interest… that sort of advice might be worth a bit more than 99 cents? But, I just have one, super-quick question. We’re friends, after all, right?

Argh. Sure. I’m all ears. I’m also a sucker… and want people to like me.

The Internet has changed expectations. I think it comes down to this: “I paid for this computer. Whatever shows up on it– that should be included.”

The stories of the Internet billionaires that everyone likes to cite?  They’re the outliers. Looking at them and deciding that it’s a good idea to start a website is like looking at a lottery winner and deciding to invest your money in scratch tickets.

Now, I’m not an Internet crank. Not at all. I like that it has changed the equation for so many. I like that it has given platforms whereby the previously voiceless can speak up. I love that new talents have emerged, that record labels no longer decide who should be famous (and then take all their money), that a few newspapers and TV stations get all the ad money and that we don’t need to kneel at the altar of the phone company to communicate with each other. I love that. Even as it put me, a journalist, kind of out of business.

So I’ve adapted. I recently became a partner in a video production company. I decided to get back to what I know best. There’s still a need for good storytelling done well by professionals. There’s a big demand for video online. People crave high-quality information they can receive quickly…

… and for free.

Lucy knew her value...

Even Lucy knew the value of her advice resided partly in the payment…