The ethics of the freebie and paying for what you consume

WHO doesn’t love a freebie? I certainly love a freebie. In these cash-strapped times, getting something for nothing is a little mini jackpot, or little Lotto win, and there’s nobody who doesn’t want a Lotto win, right? But are we in danger of taking our love of the freebie too far? Is there such a thing as an unethical freebie? 

Generally speaking, in the household budget department, I feel as though I’m getting gouged. Whether it’s true or not, I always have the general belief that I’m paying more than I should for things.

I feel as though my supermarket is ripping me off on a daily basis, overcharging for products that I could get cheaper elsewhere if I could only put in the legwork. I feel as though my electricity supplier is gouging me, charging ever-increasing prices for the same electricity I’ve always had. If my lights came on faster, or my TV was that little bit brighter, I’d feel a little bit better about the increase.  But these things do not happen.

So whenever I see an opportunity for something free, I snatch it with both poverty-fearing paws. I don’t think I’m alone on this one. We all love to get a freebie where we can. We read our news for free, listen to music for free, download things from the internet for free – freebies, freebies, freebies.

The ethics of the freebie

But, I think there’s a growing attitude that we expect freebies when in actual fact, the correct thing, the ethical thing, is to hand over some money. It’s my own brand of ethical consumerism, if you will. Traditionally, ethical consumerism is choosing to buy products that are produced ethically, such as complying with animal rights, or environmental concerns. I think it can be extended to include consumers owning up to their side of the transactional equation.

When you consume goods you must pay for them.

When someone’s labour has gone into producing that thing for you to consume, either a product or a service, you should pay for it.

When it costs something to make that product or provide that service, either the cost of the raw materials, or the cost of training to provide that service, you should pay for it.

If someone who produces goods or services wants to give you a free sample as a way to induce you to buy more down the track, then that is a freebie to accept happily.

Being a responsible consumer

I interviewed a young, up-and-coming Brisbane musician, Tom Calder, who’s in a band called The Trouble With Templeton playing at the BigSound conference in Fortitude Valley last week.

I listened to his music and I really liked it. You can (and should) listen to Templeton for free here on Facebook.

So much did I like it I played it for my husband. Their latest song, You Are New, reminds me of another artist, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe Josh Pyke? My husband thinks Templeton sounds a bit Jeff Buckley, and he’s probably right.

I really, really liked the music. But it didn’t occur to me to buy it. Why not? I liked it, I listened to it a few times while I was writing the article, I even played it for my husband and kids at the dinner table. I was a consumer of the song, but I wasn’t paying for it.

We’ve reached the point where, unless we’re compelled to pay for something by being denied that something, then we don’t see much reason to voluntarily pay for it. And I think that’s not ethical.

Why newspapers are dying

We are seeing it in the death of newspapers and a reluctance to pay for a product that costs money to produce.

There are a multitude of reasons behind this – people don’t see value in being well-informed; they get for free a minuscule amount of news and they learn to live on that; they have been getting it for free for so long now they don’t ever want to go back; they no longer trust media sources to be fair, honest and accurate.

Whatever the reason, people, in general, refuse to pay for news.

I think we’re being lazy in our news consumption. I think we should not ditch consuming news altogether because we no longer trust the mainstream media. I think we should find a source we can trust. I highly recommend The Conversation.

Paying for the products you consume

Back to Templeton. This young man, Tom Calder, is making something. He’s making a quality product (certainly, quality is in the ear of the beholder and his music may not be your cup of tea, but that’s OK, you don’t need to buy it) and he deserves to be paid for it. When he buys food, he pays for it. When he puts petrol in his car, he pays for it. Why should he not be paid for his work, even though he’s supplying it for free?

I’ve listened to two songs of his and really liked them both. He’s worked hard, he’s chasing his dreams. He will pay tax on the money he earns and contribute to society in a meaningful way. But even if he doesn’t, he still deserves to be paid for the work he has done.

Fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work

And I can afford $16.99 to buy an album of music that I like. I might only listen to it a few more times. Probably I’ll listen to it a lot more than that. But I have enough money in my bank account to cover the cost of paying someone for the work they did for me, without missing a mortgage payment. He brought some pleasure into my life and all he’s asking is to be compensated fairly for that work. I think that’s a fair deal.

When it comes down to it, I can afford to pay more than $1 a litre for milk. If the farmers truly can’t survive on $1 a litre, and I believe they can’t, then we should pay more. We should pay the dairy farmers a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

When I work for someone, I expect to be paid fairly for it. It is really about what is fair, what is right. And what is best for our economy on a micro and macro level.

And, in the words of the esteemed journalist and former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes:

Whatever your politics, or your preferences, and even if you’ve never bought a newspaper, start subscribing to at least one media website: whether it’s the Herald Sun or New Matilda, Crikey or the Sydney Morning Herald, old media or new, pay just a little to keep real journalism alive. (Media Watch, July 1, 2013).

I think the implication in Holmes’ point is that we all have a responsibility to pay for the things we consume – music, media, movies, and any other product we like to get for free, because unless we do, the business model breaks down and right now, in September 2013, there is no real, viable, successful alternative. We have no better way to gain income from products provided or services rendered, except to charge the user who procures the product or service.  So we must pay for what we consume. And that is as it should be.

1 comment for “The ethics of the freebie and paying for what you consume

  1. September 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Well said!
    I do not buy the $1 milk – because I don’t believe the dairy farmers are getting fairly paid, or even paid enough to survive (I have suspicions about the true motivations behind the pressure being put on small dairy farmers, but that’s another issue).
    And I choose to pay for The Conversation (recommended in your post), even though I can read it for free, because I really value the quality, independent news and analysis it provides. (The nice thing here is that you can choose how much to pay, based on how much you can afford & how much you value it, as it is set up as a donation and is tax deductible to boot).

I would love it if you would tap out a few words here!