The publishing world is increasingly abuzz about its own struggling right now, and talk about the general need for publishers to adapt their business models (the music industry’s failure to seize the digital-distribution opportunity until several years too late is frequently mentioned*) seems to be focusing on two things: e-publishing and free content. I’m inspired to bring this up after participating in the conversation over Seth Godin‘s post at The 26th Story.

In the general realm of business models, it’s far more productive to adapt to a changing market than to complain about said changes. As such, I’ve been fascinated to see how different publishers and writers have been weighing in on the current state of the industry: some are eager to innovate, some are eager to, well, complain. The innovators see a world of possibility but also one of uncharted territory, and so they’re in a constant state of risk assessment. The complainers see a world that’s different from the one that supported their business model for so long, and they don’t like the change. They see other industries as having had it easier when it came to their own business-model shifts in the digital age, and they do a lot of hand-throwing-up at the perceived impossibility of making a go of it in this business climate.

Now, the topic of adapting to an increasingly digital marketplace is something I’d love to dive into, but not right now. The topic I want to swim in right now is that of whether there’s a benefit to giving away things for free.

From the very beginnings of, I’ve had a fairly constant opinion of the value of giving away some content and other work for free. I think providing free work can be hugely beneficial to a creative professional, on many, many levels.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in the conversation about this within the crafts industry. But where the last time I listened the conversation was mostly centered around indie publishers and designers, the greater publishing industry now seems to be changing things up a little. Or maybe they aren’t. I’ve had my head down for long enough that I can’t feel confident in what I may or may not be noticing.

So, what do you think? As a designer or writer, do you give some of your work away for free? If you do, why? And does it “work” for you (where each person might have a different definition of “work”)? If not, why not? As a consumer, do you consume free patterns or writing? If so, do you also pay for some? Do you pay for work by the same people you take free work from? Are there any publishing-industry people who would like to weigh in on the print-digital “divide” and/or on free vs. paid distribution? And finally, do you think what we do in the crafts industry might translate (in ways minor or major) to the greater non-fiction and fiction publishing industry?

* ETA: Shannon pointed me via Twitter to a relevant article in yesterday’s NY Times. A few weeks ago the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild struck an agreement with Google for Google to digitize and sell millions of out-of-print copyrighted books. Read the article; this is a game-changing event. Gotta say, though, I take issue with the first half of this quote: “Until recently, while the music business was decimated by digital piracy, book sales rose, aided by the ability to browse and buy from online stores like Amazon.” The music business (by which I assume they mean the big-label music business) was decimated by its failure to do two things: Listen to its consumers and innovate. As people in publishing squabble over whether comparing music to books is comparing apples to oranges, they are missing this massive point. There is another area where publishing and music overlap entirely: Right now, we’re in the dawning age of digital publishing, and not all books are available digitally. Know which books will be pirated? The ones Kindle and other e-reader owners can’t pay to download because they aren’t available. And while I’m on the topic, another thing publishing should learn from the debacle of the music industry’s transition into the digital age is that DRM should be dead.

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