August 21, 2012



We love free things, don’t we?  We love the sale, we go for the half-off, we want the free gift included.

Cabela's, the World's Foremost Outfitter of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, was born somewhat inadvertently in 1961 when Dick Cabela came up with a plan to sell fishing flies he purchased while at a furniture show in Chicago. Upon returning home to Chappell, Nebraska, Dick ran a classified ad in the Casper, Wyoming, newspaper reading: "12 hand-tied flies for $1." It generated one response.
Undaunted, Dick formulated a new plan, rewriting the ad to read "FREE Introductory offer! 5 hand tied Flies....25c Postage....Handling" and placing it in national outdoor magazines. It didn't take long for the orders to begin arriving from sportsmen and women around the country.
It stems from an arms race in bargains.  One company offered it, and so the consumer expects it from the other companies too.  And then other industries.

It's not only become part of the American Dream, it's now taken for granted.  We expect things to be free.  We expect to have free samples, free movies, free wifi, free music, free art. Low-priced oil, food, and other basics.

But wait.  Let me think out loud.

So we're not paying for that thing and we don't think we should have to.  Expectation is it's free.  Or at least at a low price, and we often expect the government to subsidize these low prices.  It's a service we now expect of our legislatures and Congress.

But ~ and this is a huge but ~ the person or company providing the thing is not getting paid.  Nada.  For a large company, it's a loss leader to get you in the store and hopefully have you buy other stuff.  But what about the artist or the small business person?  They don't do the volume, and when they don't get paid for something, they can't make it up somewhere else.  The farmer ~ we expect food prices to be low, but then we complain about at farm subsidies (not to mention making up for the unpredictability of farming).  Food has to come from somewhere (and apparently this year we're dangerously close to a corn crisis).

But, for the artist or writer, this means people expect you to provide what you create for free.  They don't believe that they should have to pay for the aesthetics in their lives.  This means, perhaps even more so, that you cannot make a living on your art.

Let me say that I do believe in creative commons, that sharing what you create leads to a creative ferment that is wonderful. But I think it's a matter of degree. 

American Exceptionalism once again ~ we should be the exception to the price and we shouldn't have to pay a fair price, which translates to a fair wage, which translates to everyone helping everyone.

I'm not so sure it's a free lunch.


"As We Speak" said...

Very interesting AND thought provoking!


Tamara said...

Thank you, As We Speak!!

Ken said...

Creative work is especially at risk in this culture of undervaluing art, writing, music, dance. People who aren't engaged in those pursuits often don't appreciate the hard work required to bring a story to the page. They think of it as leisure. I have relatives who sometimes worry, out loud, that I don't have a job.

Tamara said...

Ken - Gack!! And you're frittering your life away on this weird sort-of hobby. Yet they love books or the newspaper. The fact that it is effortless translates that it was effortless for the writer.

But there's hope, I think, because people have an innate drive for art and writing. They love it!

Great points!