Picked up a Raspberry Pi for my son for Christmas and been searching for some projects to do over the holidays. I came across the Official Raspberry Pi Projects book and downloaded a Creative Commons licensed PDF copy of the book from the RPi site.
While downloading the book, I noticed that the Raspberry Pi Foundation (the non-profit charity that supports the development and use of the Raspberry Pi as a computing literacy tool) publishes a monthly magazine called MagPi, available in print and digital, also published with a CC-BY-NC-SA license. I popped over to the Google Play site to take a look at the app and was disappointed by the first 2 reviews of the app that I read.
It’s not pointless. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. What the Raspberry Pi Foundation is doing is an important piece of their organizational sustainability plan. When you purchase the app, you don’t buy the articles, you support the organization.
It reminded me of an observation that Paul Stacey from Creative Commons made about the writings of Joshua Farley and Ida Kubiszewski in the book Free Knowledge?—?Confronting the Commodification of Human Discovery. Farley and Kubiszewski write,
Conventional economics typically assume that consumption provides utility and what we pay for the goods we consume is an objective measure of the utility they provide.
To which Paul replies:
I find this weird in so many ways. Let me highlight just one – consumption provides utility. Under this logic a tree has no utility unless it is cut down and “consumed”. I expect all of you question the logic of this. A tree can provide great utility without being consumed. It provides shade on a hot day, its leaves cleanse the air we breath, its branches provide homes for birds, its roots prevent erosion, and to many it is a thing of beauty. To assert that a tree has no utility if it is not consumed is, to me, a bizarre premise.
To assume that there is no value in paying for content that you can get for free reflects this “consumption provides utility” economic perspective. To the reviewers, purchasing the app has no utility for them since they can get the content elsewhere for free. They even go a step further and question the wisdom of others who might actually pay for the app. Why do that?
They’ve missed the point.
This is not a traditional utilitarian purchase where you exchange money for a thing. You are not actually buying a thing, but instead supporting the entire organization that keeps the thing going.
In order for this business model to work, however, we have to recognize that when we see an organization that both sells and gives away their stuff for free that this is an important piece of their business model at work, and a path to financial sustainability built on open licenses. It is not a traditional transactional deal. You are not buying the stuff. You are supporting the entire system that makes the stuff possible. It is a difference that the 2 reviewers of the MagPi app have sadly missed.