If it’s free, it’s for me!
I grew up in a house that we lovingly called “Odom And Son” because we loved some salvage. You could hear the aforementioned adage as much as you could hear anything in our house. But this recent article got me thinking about low-cost and free goods and services that seem to have permeated the tiny house culture. It even got me thinking about what free actually means and if I should think about is free always free versus is free always good.
I am a content creator, a social media strategist, a writer, a blogger, and a project manager. I have been contributing content to the Internet since 2004 (when you had to hard code a blog and images had to be hosted on your server right alongside everything else). I have been contributing content to Tiny House Blog since 2013. I spent 5 years authoring Tiny r(E)volution. I now manage content and generate content for Tiny House Magazine as well. And that says nothing about the videos I have created on YouTube, the links I have shared on Twitter, the photo tutorials I have posted on Instagram, etc. All of this I have shared to you – the reader, the viewer, and the commenter – for free. Free is good, right?
Motivational speaker Mike Lipkin is famous for beginning his keynote presentations with the line: “I would do this for free, but I am going to make you pay for it so that you appreciate what you’re getting.” Does that mean that what I have offered through the years is unappreciated? Does the tiny house world not appreciate the vast number of large resources given to us for free? And if I charged for my content would it make me more of an authority? Does an assigned value mean something is better than something else?
My writing, my videos, my tweets, my comments, etc. does, in fact, increase my personal exposure and my validity as a member of the community. In fact, some may argue that through Tiny r(E)volution and our early adoption of tiny house living that I am somewhat of an authority. I don’t though. I just happen to have a widely acknowledged set of platforms. Giving away content was never part of my long-term strategy though and can sometimes be a burden. Why, you may ask. What gives me the right to say that?
When I write a blog post I am in essence, giving away a commodity for free. But it is not free. That is the crux. To write that piece I had to spend time, energy, effort, and knowledge in order to produce it. I could have been doing a million other things with that time including (but not limited to) playing Go Fish! with my daughter or bicycling with my wife or writing a letter to an old friend or even just sitting on my duff watching Top Gun for the 3,928th time. During the 64 episodes of the r(E)vo Convo that were recorded and produced neither Laura, my co-host, or I were compensated in any way. We gave up time, knowledge, and even server space to provide that resource to the tiny house community. I look back at it though and I think I had it all wrong.
The only time something is truly free is when it has no value.
I like to think that my posts, my videos, my podcasts, and all the in-between had some value. If it had no value why would you want to spend your time and energy consuming it? Things of no value are cast aside; thrown away! Poop is free. Truth of the matter is we flush it and then ultimately pay someone (whether it be the city we live in or a septic company) to dispose of it. The same can be said of sales flyers, household garbage, and jury duty notices.
So is free always good? I ask you you to think on it for a bit.
There are a number of tiny house building plans on the market now. They are designed by trained and licensed architects, experiences builders, contractors, and the like. They all have a price tag. And why do they have a price tag? Because by in large, they are of value. They have been invested in with time, energy, resource, knowledge, and practicum. Heck, even the rollout bed plans I sell have a price tag. For good reason though. In order to create them I had to build 3 versions of the bed, have people try it out, sketch up the plans, have a digital artist make renderings of the bed, write out the steps, create a video showing the final product, create the PDF, publish the PDF, design an ad to sell it, and then market it to the world. But when someone purchases those plans I know they are getting a quality product that will enable them to build the same bed I came to love and use. I am putting my name and reputation on the line for just $2.95. Think for a moment on how you would feel about that bed if it were just a free download with a couple of grainy photos that you either saw on Pinterest or were link-led to on a Facebook post.
So to my opinion, no. Free is not always good. Free is nice and free is appreciated but free is not always good. I challenge you from this point on to think about what you sacrifice to produce content and what value the content you choose to consume or support may have. It is important that as the tiny house movement continues moving forward we assign value to our builders, our designers, our artists, and our advocates. It isn’t about what is free. It is about what is wholly good.