The Technium

People Want To Pay

[Translations: Dutch, Japanese]

Yes, everything will be free, but in my experience people want to pay. They really do! People, mobs of them, will grab stuff that is free. They will try stuff for free that they would never touch if they had to pay. They will always gravitate, on average, to the lowest price, and what is lower than free?


But, but, if people have resources they prefer to pay the creators of products and services they like. Payment is

1) A way of connecting.

2) A sign of approval.

3) A vote.

4) It indicates an allegiance with the maker.

5) It feels good to the payer, to support.

People buy stuff, but what we all crave are relationships. Payment is an elemental type of relationship. Very primitive, but real.

There are some caveats in this urge to pay.

Paying has to be super easy, idiot-proof and frictionless. There can’t be hurdles. The easier it is to pay, the more eager people are to pay.

The price has to be reasonable. That means it has to be reasonable in relation to similar stuff that is free!

The benefits of paying have to be evident and transparent.  This takes creativity to produce and work to convey simply. Unless the benefits of paying are obvious, paying is made difficult. For some suggestions of benefits over the free, see my Better Than Free post.

Is there any evidence for wanting to pay? I recently came across a UK survey, sponsored by British Music Rights (that means they represent musicians and music publishers) which suggest fans want to pay. According to this study what the respondents appear to want is an unlimited download service free of DRM that could be legally accessed for a monthly fee– a way to pay that doesn’t yet exist.

They are happy to pay if it is easy, fair, and beneficial.

  • eyalnow

    I strongly agree.

    If musicians offer their music for free, they can benefit from the network-effects of their music reaching new audiences, and support themselves through many income streams such as donations, live shows, merchandise, value-added CDs, collaborations, commercial-uses and more.

    if donations are encouraged as a social phenomena, and integrated into products and services, more people will be happy to support their favorite artists.

    I’ve written a detailed paper about this, and will appreciate your (kelly and others) opinion.

  • Mike Scott

    You forgot one caveat. The payment has to go to the right place. People won’t pay even a modest price for music if they know that if 90% of it is going to a record company or a middleman instead of to the artists.

    • Kevin Kelly

      Mike Scott said: “You forgot one caveat. The payment has to go to the right place.”

      Correct. I should have added that.

  • A musician’s audience (their customers) have every reason to want to pay the musician to produce music. After all, the musician is who they WANT to pay, and the music is what they WANT to pay for. The audience has no need to pay the musician (or their agents) for copies, given they have clearly demonstrated they can make those quite easily all by themselves.

    Of course, people will term this idea of paying musicians for music rather than copies patronage, with its negative overtones. However, the patronage of old was only restricted to the wealthy because it
    was difficult for the pennies from commoners to outweigh the cost of their
    collection. Hence how sensible in hindsight to incorporate a penny into the
    very significant cost of a printed copy.

    As we know, things are different today. Instead of the the copy representing
    99% of the cost, with a 1% royalty to the artist, things are now round the
    other way. The copy is now a hundredth of the cost of the 1% of the price
    that would have gone to the artist.

    In the case of digital patronage, it is now cost-effective (thanks to the
    Internet) to collect a thousand patrons’ pennies for the artist and let
    those patrons separately make and pay for their own copies (visiting if they wish to pay extra for a PDF in book form).

    There’s no longer a need to identify patronage as exclusive to the wealthy –
    nor even to expect the wealthy to be at all significant. Nevertheless,
    corporate sponsors, broadcasters, and even the odd plutocrat may well still
    partake. Ultimately, it is the masses that enjoy and pay for easily
    reproducible art, and these will be the same people to pay for it. The only
    difference is, that they may pay for the art’s production separately, and
    often, directly. If publishers add value and assist the artist in building a
    paying audience then they’ll no doubt be rewarded by artist and audience

    I’ve blogged recently on this.
    Music is Expensive, Copies are Free.

    I too am confident that there are sane people out there who WANT to pay artists
    small amounts of money, especially if they are convinced this results in an
    equitable exchange of art.

    Art for money, money for art.

  • Hi Kevin,

    Please find a Dutch translation on

    Succes en plezier,


  • I once saw a “donate here” link on a site I liked and used a lot. I was all setup to donate, followed the link, and was told the donation was going to some charity. And I had no interest in that.

    Uh, so yeah I tend to agree.

  • I’m the developer of a fairly successful 99¢ iPhone application. Believe me, I’m making a decent amount of money from the fact that people would rather pay me to make something nice for them than mess around with free (but clumsy) web-based services.

  • Many of us already pay or donate for content generated under open licensing schemes. My belief is that many more people would pay or donate if a “culture” of payment for creative work were created.
    It’s possible that the number paying vs. the number sampling the work could be a rather low ratio,and yet traffic could still generate a return for the artist.

    In line with other commenters, I sometimes encounter the problem that I hit the “donate” button and the link is broken. If one wishes to create an environment of payment, then paying the vendor must be at least as easy as it is on eBay or at the local store.

  • I agree on this one. See my post.

    PS. You wrote “…what is lower than free?” in the first paragraph. A price can be negative, that is, they pay you to use their product. I wrote about it before.

  • I think sometimes people like to pay if for no other reason than they don’t want to feel indebted.

    Evidently that is why, in the days that the Hari Krishna used to give out flowers at the airport they did this, people would then reciprocate buy giving money.

    They felt like they had to, sadly it’s not the say as they wanted to.

  • Tom K

    Even though I prefer not to accumulate more DVDs, I will gladly buy individual seasons of programming that I can’t get via cable, as I choose to subscribe to only the basic cable channels. I would likely do this even if able to stream them via “Watch it now” on Netflix, as it is the only way for me to give back to the creators.

    As for our music industry and its’ “sue your customers” mentality, I buy used and purchase directly from the artists when I can. Don’t feed the monster.

  • I strongly agree, people want to pay. But there is another good reason they might want to pay: to secure there future happiness.

    Personally, I often “donate” money, not to pay for the product I consumed (which is free), but to do my part in order to make sure the creator will do more stuff in the future. More stuff that I will be able to enjoy and use for “free”.

    It is a self-interested act, and in that sense it is not a “donation”. You are paying for something: you pay for your future happiness. I think it is a more “clever” form of consumption.

  • Cashking

    I think that people’d like to think that their work effort (their salary) is worth whatever they spend their money on. The primed logic is: If the benefit gained from your expenses does not at least equal to your work (the part of your time that you sell), you are failing.

    People want to pay because it raises the perceived gain from “work” or “sold time” – (which is after all the pinnacle of our current economic growth based society.)

    People have been programmed to consider currency (or capital) to be the most powerful, condensed form of information. Most of us, who are exposed to commercial information outlets, are repeatedly told that our main (and perhaps only) power lies where we choose to spend our capital – the thing that we traded our time for-

    And so, it’s not strange that even as stuff becomes available for free – suddenly they realize that the part of their time that they do not sell is more rewardingly spent on “things” that do not cost money – we become confused.

    “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
    – J.R.R Tolkien
    “Time is money”
    – Unknown

    /Cash is King

  • 1) Attaching a price to something denotes its value. People don’t value free stuff in the same way they value stuff they pay for.
    2) I’d rather pay for something that works well and is easy to use than something that’s complicated to understand and takes time to set up that’s free. That’s why I chose typepad for my blog rather than wordpress. A few bucks a month means I have my blog up and running in 20 minutes and technical support when I need it… (I have no affiliation to typepad by the way!)