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Would You Tip a Guy Handing Out Free Lattes? 7 September 2009

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.

Imagine a guy standing on a street corner handing out lattes. Or chai, hot chocolate, whatever suits your fancy. And he’s just handing them out, not asking for anything in return — he’s got a tip jar, though, on the pavement near his feet.

A little further down the block, there’s a smiling girl with a tray of sandwiches and an empty paper cup marked TIPS. “Help yourself,” she says. “No charge.”

There is also a café that serves hot drinks and sandwiches, right there in the same block: eight-dollar paninis that you can have cold or grilled, the coffee made from expensive beans.

Do you buy the $8 sandwich and $4 latte from the café? Or do you take the free ones from the nice people standing on the street?

You take the free ones; of course you do. We all do, and if the supply of free food is constant and continues for long enough, the café goes out of business. The real question is: do you give the latte guy and the sandwich girl a tip? (Oh, and you might also wonder who’s paying for the food.)

Just in case anyone has missed it, this is really about web content.

Online readers don’t want to pay, and they (you) don’t have to. It’s the street where free food is handed out. The donate-now buttons are easy to ignore.

Writers want to be paid. It’s a profession, it has value, those pennies-per-word are earned, dammit!

The publishers are supposed to figure this thing out: pay the writers what they’re worth, don’t charge the readers anything, hope the Google Ads at least cover the webhost bills. The way I see it, there are currently only two solutions — backing from a group with money and an agenda (which kind of moves away from the point of pure unbiased journalism or an untainted commitment to quality fiction), or else sales of tangible products and commercial services (books, t-shirts, training courses, etc.).

This means that if Latte Guy wants to make money, he’s going to be selling you Amway (or at least an enviro-friendly travel mug) while he makes your free coffee. And Sandwich Girl would like to talk to you about faith and the state of your soul.


1. gaydegani - 8 September 2009

Haven’t been here before. Pretty cool. BTW, I did update your link at FFC on the contributors list. People will now be directed here.

Camille - 8 September 2009

Thanks, Gay! Much appreciated.

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