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If you've been using the Internet awhile, you've probably come across someone, in some damp forum somewhere, expressing the following sentiment:

"What do you mean I can't get ______ for free anymore? How dare they charge money for this! This is worse than when they put ads up! Which I also bitched about! I'm going to take my business elsewhere! No! I'm going to bitch about it anonymously, and then take my business elsewhere! No! I'm going to bitch about it, then steal it, and then play with my business elsewhere!

"Or even right here in the computer chair!"

You will of course see similar rants when this poor person gets free stuff but discovers that the free stuff wasn't good enough. "What do you mean this free app doesn't have ________ feature, YOU CORPORATE FAT CATS?!" And again if something is free, and is awesome, but it doesn't come quickly enough.

"What kind of Nazi/Communist/sentient genital wart do you have to be to dare take a vacation instead of producing things for me to enjoy!?"

And if you're being really honest with yourself, you might even have felt the same things. I know I have. I'm not holier than thou. I'm exactly as shitty and self-entitled as thou.

But why? Like you (I'm imagining), I'm not normally a huge asshole in the real world. I'm constantly paying for things and not shrieking in the faces of shopkeepers. So why is it that you and I and everyone else on the Internet are so convinced that the world owes us everything, quickly, of the highest quality, and free? How did we get to be such self-entitled little bastards?

We Don't Really Care About the Content Providers

The fact that someone has to write the things we read, or program the games we play, or produce the shows we watch isn't that relevant to most of us. We're just interested in the product, and more specifically, getting it in our grubby hands. When I went out and bought this Rush album ...

This one here.

... I didn't buy it because I cared about Mr. Rush, or wanted to buy Mr. Rush a new boat. I wanted the music, I guess.

Unless it was something else.

From my point of view, I gave my money to the music store, and they gave me a record. I wasn't rewarding the content creation. I was rewarding the content delivery.

This is part of the reason piracy is so rampant. That didn't blow over when Napster left, incidentally: HBO's current hit show Game of Thrones is now probably watched by more people illegally than it is legally. Sure, that might be in part due to the restrictive ways of legally getting it, which I think involves sending HBO a check each month. (Does that sound right? That sounds too crazy to be right.) But it's still an insane amount of piracy.

But even when it is easy to legally get something, piracy is still rampant. When websites like NYTimes.com put up pay walls, the Internet quickly fills with tips on how to get around those. No links here, though you can probably figure out how it works (it basically just abuses the free trial system). Same deal with ad blocking. And those little 99 cent apps in the Android app store? Despite being cheaper than shit (and easier to buy), those get pirated, too.

"How dare someone charge me the price of a taco for anything other than a taco!?"

I know there are a lot of reasons why we pirate media with an intensity that would make actual pirates blush. We do it because we can, because it's easy, because there's no penalties, and because everyone else on the Internet does it. But most importantly, we do it because, deep down, we could not give less of a damn about the people who create it. The guys who create Game of Thrones, talented and hard-working though they may be, are simply outside our Monkeyspheres. Their livelihoods and general welfare don't just rank below ours. In our minds, they essentially don't exist.

Also Maybe It's Actually the Content Providers' Fault?

On the other hand, maybe we're right to poop on the content providers a bit. This might sound a little twisted; after all, if we hate them so much, why are we interested in their content? Well, when we perceive that the content provider is a middleman, someone who isn't responsible for making the content so much as they are for marking up its cost, that might have something to do with it.

During the 1990s, a lot of pro-piracy rhetoric was based on arguments like this, rooted in the fertile soil of music industry hatred. The music industry did of course have a lot to answer for. Charging $20 for a CD, of which the actual band might see $2. Charging $20 for an album with only one good song on it. Price fixing. Everything to do with Ace of Base.

And sure, pirating the songs denied the actual artists (who we maybe don't hate) their $2 of income. But then we did it anyways, because they're rich, and that sounds like a good enough reason to hate them, too.

Also, charging $20 for a CD with no good songs on it.

There's also the issue of episodic content being delayed. When people complain about this, most content providers typically respond with something like "We'll release it when it's done," or "These delays aren't costing you anything, so quit your bellyaching," or "Go to hell, you fat lazy bastards. Jesus Christ. Ride a bike."

There's a problem with that, though, when the consumers have already paid for previously released episodes. Basically, the value of an individual episode is based in part on the fact that it's only a part of a larger whole. The Fellowship of the Ring, on its own, is worth less than The Fellowship of the Ring as the opening chapter of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, on its own, The Fellowship of the Ring isn't worth much.

"That's it? I guess Boromir was the bad guy, then?"

When someone sells an episode of an incomplete story bundled with a promise that the story will be completed in later episodes to come, and then stops releasing new episodes, that reduces the value of the episodes they've already sold. Believe me, I am sympathetic to content creators and the challenges they face making novels and video games and novels based on video games. But I also have sympathy for people who pay for stories that were promised to be finished and then don't get finished. That's worthy of complaining about.

(What isn't justifiable is people who bitch about free content being late. Those guys are assholes. If you see anyone doing this, kick them in the ear.)

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We're Spoiled

OK, but let's say we're dealing with content creators who aren't dinks, and they're releasing stuff on time. But maybe it's not free enough. Or good enough. People will bitch about it; the Internet is full of people who demand everything to be free and fantastic. And they get away with it because basically everything out there already is free and fantastic.

Remember how we used to check sports scores? You'd flip to the sports channel and watch the scrolling score thingy and try not to blink, lest the score you want scroll by and leave you adrift in a sea of pre-season MLB results.

Fuck you, Grapefruit League.

And if you didn't have cable, then you were waiting for the late night news. And if you liked a team from out of town? It might have been faster to just go there and ask someone.

"Welcome back, man. The Knicks score? Sorry, didn't catch it. Check it, though; I know all the Grapefruit League results."

But now? There are dozens of free websites and apps that have scores for any team you could want, updated by the second, with only as many unimportant baseball results cluttering it up as you want. Technology has spoiled us, and if we see any score-showing website or app that can't do all of this equally as well, and for free, we will bitch about it.

"That'll be $4.99 for those Grapefruit League results, by the way."

And then, as if we weren't spoiled enough by all the fantastic things given to us for free, when we bitch about not being spoiled enough, people actually listen to us!

Take the case of Disney's hit smartphone game Where's My Water? Last year, Disney released a bunch of extra levels for the game, charging an astronomical sum of 99 cents for the set. This was, obviously, an outrage, and a torrent of one-star reviews soon filled the app store in protest. This is a bigger deal than it might sound; given how crowded app stores are, having those five-star average ratings is one of the only ways to stay visible. Which meant Disney was forced to release more levels for free.

Another example: When Mass Effect 3 was originally released, it had an ending that everyone hated. A really epic storm of bitching descended upon most of the gaming sites across the Internet, and before too long the developers caved in. After a couple months, and who knows how many man-hours, they released a massive updated ending for the game, just to try and get people off their backs. People still hated it, but that's not the point. The point was that the developers bent over backward to satisfy us ungrateful bastards.

Imagine what this would do to a child, or to a cat that you were raising as your child.


It would spoil that cat-child rotten. Content providers are teaching their audiences that they're entitled to free, high-quality content. They're teaching their audiences that they'll never stop pandering to the misspelled bitching that fills the Net. They're teaching their audiences that they are more important than anything.

Why on earth would they do that? Because ...

The Audience Is More Important Than Anything

The fundamental reason there is so much high-quality content available for free is because the Internet has thrown the balance between creators and consumers askew.

Wikimedia Commons
Creators, you're the porky fellows on the left.

This isn't, as you might think, because content creation is easier now. No, although the Internet and computers and little robots have made content creation a bit easier, the big difference is in distribution. Prior to the Internet, getting people to read your words, or watch your movie, or play your video game was a real hassle. You couldn't get your work on shelves unless you had a deal with the guy who owned the shelves, and shelf owners are notoriously unpleasant people to deal with.

"I want a 40 percent cut, a commitment that you'll take back any unsold inventory, and one night of passion with your wife. Whom you'll also have to take back when I'm done."

But now, there are millions of websites and blogs and something called vlogs and app developers and game developers, all busy churning out work and putting it on the Internet. And having enjoyed the benefits of a marketplace with no barriers to entry, they're now enjoying the side effects of a marketplace with no barriers to entry: millions of competitors.

"Oh, just go away, you horde of assholes."

Which results in essentially all of these creators giving all of their content away for free. This became standard practice on the Internet back during the dot-com boom, when hundreds of brand new companies were given piles of cash by morons and had no requirement to make money immediately. Every one of them set upon basically the same business plan: grow fast by giving away everything for free and hope that profitability would follow. This business plan has since become the standard model for basically every content producer on the Internet. The audience is the first and most important thing.

And for a significant number of them, the audience is the only thing; many of these guys aren't even trying to make money. They're creating shit in their spare time just for fun. They just want the audience. This is one of the main reasons that newspapers and magazines are folding at such an alarming rate. They're trying to make money against competition -- news aggregators and opinion bloggers -- willing to give their goods away for free. Whether those bloggers can deliver quality writing comparable to professional newspaper reporting is debatable, but for a reader just killing time and looking for something to read, the "free = good enough" option is going to be hard to beat.

In the past, we'd always considered these one-way transactions. A reader wanted to read a book, and the author wanted to sell the book, so they'd exchange the book for money and go their separate ways, the reader home to read the new book, and the author to the bar or the bathhouse or whatever. But there was something else at play, too, lurking behind the scenes. The author didn't just want to sell the book. He wanted people to read it. That was worth something to him.

And readers, movie watchers, and video game players have slowly started to learn this. Their time and attention and eyeballs are worth something. When there was less content available and the ratio of content to eyeballs was lower, maybe not so much. But that's changed, and the price for eyeballs has skyrocketed.

You guys get that this is a metaphor, right? Please don't sell your physical eyeballs. If you do, that's not on me.

So unless the Internet suddenly gets a lot less crowded (not likely) or a lot more professional (wow, no), don't expect its citizens to start acting any less entitled. We're being trained that that's the way to be.


Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and make him reconsider that.

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