A few months ago I began using Write Or Die as a way to focus my concentration and boost my productivity. First I used it as a brainstorming tool, but in the last couple months, I’ve used it to draft new prose, and I’ve been pretty pleased with the results. If you’ve got Butt-In-Chair down but struggle to keep up the Hands-On-Keyboard part, I enthusiastically recommend this simple little app/applet. I primarily use the web-based app, and I set it to kamikaze, with a twenty-second grace period. Then, if twenty seconds pass without me typing in anything new, the app redirects my attention to the screen. Here’s where the kamikaze part comes in: this “redirection” is in the form of turning the margins of the page from pink to red and finally, if nothing new is typed, deleting the words I’ve already typed.
When I tell people about this, they’re often freaked out. One writer told me she didn’t need any more stress when it came to her writing, but the thing is, for me, there is no stress. I virtually never lose a word, because there is plenty of warning before this happens. So I don’t perceive any consequence, just a reminder of what I wanted to do with this time. The possibility of losing words is just there to keep me from ignoring the warning and checking twitter just one more time–to give the reminder some teeth–but it’s not like I live in fear of losing my precious prose. I just write for the half hour I typically set aside and then take a short break afterword, lather, rinse, repeat.
A couple weeks ago, when Written?Kitten was making the rounds, I saw a lot of people comparing it to Write or Die–heck, I did it myself, suggesting it was the “positive reinforcement” version. While I think Written?Kitten is really cute, though, it wouldn’t work for me, because it doesn’t do what Write or Die does for me–it doesn’t redirect me if I go off task. I could stop writing and stare out the window and, okay, I’d get no cute pictures, but there’d be no consequence either. I seem to benefit more from the negative reinforcement than from positive reinforcement.
A few weeks ago I was browsing the blog at Write Or Die when I ran across a post asking people about their preferences between the free online app and the $10 downloadable app. Because I have paid for and downloaded the app but still prefer the web application when I have internet, I was intrigued by the topic. In addition to posting my own thoughts and my reasons for preferring the web app, I read through all fifty million comments everybody else had posted. (Dang I wish Dr. Wicked would send a few commenters to my lonely blog.) It was a fascinating look into other people’s thought processes.
(For instance, a lot of people posted that they couldn’t justify shelling out $10 for a product they only use one month a year. It was eye-opening to see how many NaNoWriMo participants don’t aspire to beinig authors year-round, but just for thirty days out of every 365.)
A lot of people said they didn’t buy the app because they were students with no spending money, or because they can’t use paypal, or things along those lines. Fair enough. Some people thought ten dollars was simply more than the product was worth. Again, fair enough.
One thing I saw over and over, though, was the argument that there was no sense in buying the downloadable app when the online one was already free. I couldn’t help but wonder if those commenters thought the free app was paid for by their taxes or something. Advertising? (I see no advertising on the blog.) I couldn’t help wondering what conclusions, if any, I could draw about the file-sharing arguments I often see online from this unscientific sampling I saw in this one comment thread.
I do have other unscientific samples that seem to indicate that an enormous majority of people feel no need to pay for crowd-supported products when they’re available for free, even if they benefit from them extensively. Every year during Wikipedia’s donation campaign, they note that it would only take a small donation from just a fraction of their readers to end reach their annual goal. Similarly, Duotrope.com, another crowd-funded site I use, notes on their donation page that if each user donated $6.01, they would meet their goal for this year. Instead, only 18% of their registered users donate a median of $10 each.
Crowd-funded products aren’t free because they aren’t worth paying for or because their creators don’t need the money. They’re free because they’re predicated on a different consumer model: one where you as the end-user get to determine if the product really measured up, and if it was valuable, and then pay for the value you received, instead of one where you are forced to pay for something up front and hope you get your money’s worth. It’s like a show at a Renn-Faire where they pass a hat around afterward. The performers still deserve to be compensated for entertaining you; they’re just letting you decide how much that entertainment was worth. (And as an added benefit, yeah, that means that people who don’t have a ton of money can still have access to their products. If you can’t pay for something now, maybe one day later you will, or maybe you’ll pay it forward to someone else, or maybe you’ll help generate good word of )
I sometimes download software from C|Net that I don’t pay anything for–because in the end I don’t get much or any use out of it. But for the websites and products that enrich my life, yeah, I kick in a few bucks. Products or sites I’ve contributed to include Something Positive, Questionable Content, XKCD, Wikipedia, Write or Die, and Duotrope. That’s not an exhaustive list, just what comes to mind right now.
So what about you? Assuming you can afford it, have you paid for the “free” stuff you enjoy?