The High Price of Free


Topic details

Doing business in the web industry has unbelievably low start-up and fixed running costs. You need little more than a computer and an internet connection. The overheads of freelancers and small agencies that build websites and applications for other people, or develop a digital product, are tiny in comparison to a traditional business.

As an industry we have become accustomed to getting hundreds of hours of work, and the benefit of years of hard-won knowledge for free.

My free time in the last couple of years has been put into looking at the Grid Layout spec. I start most days answering emailed questions about the examples I’ve posted, before I get down to the work that pays the bills.

I wondered how other independent and freelance web workers dealt with this conflict between earning money and contributing back. I also wondered if I was alone in feeling that the clock is ticking. I put together a survey (the responses to which probably will be the background to several other pieces of research), and a few things stood out immediately.

John Gruber:

I worry that the inherent slowness of the web and ill-considered trend toward over-produced web design is going to start hurting traffic to DF.

I asked the question, “Are you involved in open source projects, writing tutorials, mentoring, speaking at events-that you do free of charge or for expenses only?” 59% said they were not involved, with 27% of those people citing time constraints. Some people did explain that they were involved in volunteer work outside of the web. By the time I filtered out the under-40s, the non-involvement figure rose to 70%.