Viz. the testimony of avant-gardist Bob Ostertag, who decided to put all his music online for free seven years ago, but has now concluded that this wasn't such a good move:
"... I have learned that “accessing” music and actually listening to it are two different things.
Free downloading has created a kind of collector or hoarder who is unique to the digital age. In
my university classes, I query my students about their downloading habits, and everyone who is
deeply into music has figured out how to download music for free, despite the best efforts of the
record business to stop them, and have far, far more music downloaded to their laptops and iPods
than they will ever have time to listen to in their entire lives. Gigabytes and gigabytes of
meaningless data. These same students invariably report that they have actually listened to all the
music they paid for.
"If a virtual tree falls in a virtual forest and no one opens the file, does it still make a sound?
This is a real conundrum. If by “commons” we mean, say, communally owned pastures in
England, we are talking about finite resources that were valued as such and cared for accordingly
by the surrounding community. But if by “commons” we mean a vast expanse of server farms
that seems capable of expanding without meaningful limit, then we are speaking of something
very different. Have I cheapened my music by not monetizing its recorded artifact?"
The value of scarcity is that scarcity creates value. That applies whether it's a limited edition print or it's a performance that only a certain number of people can get to attend. It also applies to the lifespan of an individual. Even when there is a potentially unlimited number of copies available -- a priced musical recording, or a book, or whatever, that goes into reprint - the scarcity-value is still created, in relation to the scarcity of your economic resources. (People who don't have limits on their spending power quickly discover that value becomes voided - viz, Citizen Kane / William Randolph Hearst, buying up all those treasures and art works and antiques from Europe, getting them shipped over in giant crates, never opening them up or enjoying them).
There might be other ways of creating value, but simply removing an existing apparatus of value and hoping for the best, well it's not really worked out with music.
All this chimes in with this week's much-talked about manifesto from Barney Hoskyns exhorting culture-workers not to give their work away for free:
[further discussion of the manifesto at its Facebook page]