I've stated on our blog and podcast many times that you can offer your content for free without devaluing that content. Frequent followers will recall two interviews with independent musician Jonathan Coulton (podcasts #38 and #55), who has given most of his music away and still manages to make a decent living. (I cannot define "decent" exactly, but I imagine he does quite well for himself.)
Well, thanks to Amazon's 2008 best-selling albums list, I have even more proof that free does not equal worthless. According to ReadWriteWeb, the best-selling album in Amazon's MP3 store for 2008 was Ghosts I-IV by Nine Inch Nails. Interestingly, that same album was available for free (and legally!) in March via BitTorrent under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.
This means that either: A) People ignored the fact that the album was available for free and opted to pay, or B) people downloaded the album for free and paid after listening because they felt it was worth the money. A third option, of course, is that people were just too dumb or lazy to figure out how to use BitTorrent. This, however, is unlikely. After all, this is the fan base for Nine Inch Nails we're talking about here... not Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
This is not to say that opera companies should start giving away tickets. I'm simply saying that arts organizations might consider lightening up a bit when it comes to offering content online.
("Free LSD" photo courtesy of corypina's Flickr stream.)