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A Free Society


This week, Netflix managed to rile-up much of its customer base by changing its subscriptions services and prices. There has been a great wailing and gnashing of teeth on Twitter and Facebook from folks who now seem to have adopted "We're Not Gonna Take It!" as their theme song. What, dear reader, was the terrible wrong inflicted upon the Netflix user base?  Read it, and weep:

The change, effective immediately for new customers, and on Sept. 1 for existing customers, eliminates the $9.99 unlimited (one dvd out at a time) DVD + unlimited streaming plan. Instead, there will be a $7.99 unlimited (one dvd out at a time) DVD plan, and a $7.99 unlimited streaming plan, and never the twain shall meet. The change was first announced on Tuesday.
Ok. Now that you're sitting there, stone-faced, wondering what all the fuss is about, allow me to use this moment to springboard to a more general societal problem, and that, when it boils down to it, is how a lot of folks have developed the notion that things (especially things that are internet-related) should be free. Or darn near close to it. Why is this? Where did it come from? Let's look a little deeper, shall we?

Remember the days before the internet was big? Folks paid for things, proper like. You wanted a music CD, you went to the music store and purchased it. There were all sorts of different stores to choose from, and they (some of them) competitively priced their cassettes and CDs so, if you were smart, you could find a place with a better deal. Then along came the internet. Or 'internets,' as a former President likes to refer to it. At any rate, the music labels got into the act by allowing folks to download their favorite songs and albums -- for a price. Fair is fair, right? Wrong. Some people discovered a way to download music for free, and they went mad for it. Folks who were normally law-abiding citizens had no compunction in stealing music online.

There have been various reasons given for why some would steal music. They'd say that the record labels were charging "too much" for the product. But then these same people wouldn't likely steal a loaf of bread from the grocery store if they thought it was too expensive. I even had an old college professor break-it-down for me with what he had calculated the production costs of making a CD were (just the physical product), and then he'd sit back, smiling, confident that he'd spelled-out the proof for why music should only cost a buck-fifty. This doesn't take into account the money that should be received by the artists, songwriters, artwork designers, marketing department, record executives, and whomever else had a hand in getting the product to market.

Then we turn to the internet, itself, probably the biggest culprit in the room for this notion of a something-for-nothing, free society. Pretty much everything on the internet is free to users, aside from some news and porn sites. This is the way its been since the inception of the web, and there are a lot of people who want to keep it that way. Fair enough. On a good day, I'm one of  'em. But then I'm also able to realize the oddity of utilizing such a vast service for free. With just a monthly payment to an internet provider, I am able to access thousands of web sites without fail. And, when there are even rumors that a site may be contemplating a pay requirment from its users (*cough* Facebook *cough*), said users go batshit insane and threaten to leave in droves.

Getting back to the Netflix kerfuffle for a moment. They're basically offering two different types of services: Either unlimited DVD rentals for $7.99 a month, or unlimited streaming of films for $7.99 a month. If you were to go the old brick & mortar route, you'd be paying anywhere from a dollar to $3 per rental. And, if you rent a lot of stuff per month, then the cost quickly outstrips what you'd be paying Netflix. In this regard, the Netflix options seem reasonable to me. So, what are people railing against? Change? Ok, well, things change. Get over it.

Just what is driving this trend of something-for-nothing (or very little)? It's happening across the board. We expect our products and services to be provided cheaply, or for free. This in-turn leads to lower income for companies, and lower wages for employees. And that, dear reader, is ultimately not good for our economy and, therefore, ourselves. We simply can't demand stuff for so little money (or none at all). It's not the way to make a world work.

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