The Economics of Free
I’ll start this blog post the same way 38% of all blog posts from the last six years have started:
These are volatile economic times.
It’s true. We had a dot-com bubble in the nineties, the housing market collapse in ’08, record losses and all-time highs on Wall Street.
But really, when you consider the fundamental changes since the advent of the Internet, it’s almost hard to believe our economy survived in a form that’s recognizable at all.
For example, in today’s business world, content is king. That may not even seem strange. It’s been that way for a few years and we’re pretty much used to it. The bigger change may be that content is not only king, with the democratization of information online, it’s also free. Think about what’s happened to the music industry, every single corner of the publishing world, even education. We’ve stopped paying for intellectual property, at least according to the old models.
Look at libraries: They’re becoming billion-dollar investments in an obsolete format, used more for their free computers and Wi-Fi than their endless stacks of books.
Think of the data, connectivity, knowledge, analysis, and — occasionally — wisdom available for a pittance on your smartphone. Why enroll in years of college courses and acquire a mountain of student debt to learn a language or a trade or a computer system you can teach yourself with a 99¢ app, a YouTube video or a Google search?
With an MBA and Juris Doctorate under my belt, I’m no stranger to the classroom. In fact, I encourage my own children to desire and pursue higher education. But the fact is, twenty years ago professors were the gatekeepers of education, and today students are fact checking their professors in real time. Seek an education primarily to challenge yourself and grow, not for a degree in a field that’s changing so fast your diploma will look like a relic by the time you find a job. The bottom line is this: make sure the ROI on your education is high enough to pay off that student loan debt before taking a dip in shark infested waters.
In our lifetime, the evolution of the global economy has sped up exponentially. Analog is moving from retail shelves to museum shelves. The future belongs to those who package compelling content in creative ways.