07/30/2010 05:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Media: Better Free Than Cheap

It's better to work for free than for cheap. How's that? Here are some examples that seem stranger than fiction.

Had an argument with your spouse? Whip out your iPhone and launch "Fix a Fight," available for $9.99 from the iTunes store. No expensive therapists, no tense appointments with marriage counselors. Just the two of you and your handheld devices. Sound like fiction? "Fix a Fight" is real.

Demand Media is a "content farm." They'll pay you six bucks an hour or so for an article they turn around and sell to USA Today or maybe run on Lance Armstrong's site If you make a film for Demand Media they will post it to their site and you can have what's left over on the executive editor's lunch plate. Sometimes it's pretty good, like half a sandwich or something. Demand Media's low pay makes professional writers unhappy, but Demand Media is real.

You can send yourself or anyone else an email from the future. Go to and write a promise or wish, address it to anybody and date it for sometime in the future. It will be delivered when you are much older than you are now. is real and it's also free.

Want a video of your company president explaining why your oil rig blew up? Pixability will send you a flip cam in the mail. You shoot some video of your guy apologizing to sea turtles or whatever, then mail back the camera. Pixability edits the video and you put it on line. Cost: $395. Pixibility is real. Those production companies that used to charge $15,000 for similar services? They are now fiction.

By allowing their content to be factory farmed (like demand Studios does) writers are only hurting themselves. By posting their videos for free on YouTube (mostly to Google's benefit) visual artists are being economically blind. There's an ugly kind of genius to convincing clients to make their own videos and then charging them for it but that business model can't make for a pretty picture. There's a market rate for professional producers, and below that rate you generally get crap. By the way, is saving your marriage really worth only $9.99?

Strange truth: People work harder and value their work more when it is done for free instead of being done for less-than-adequate pay. Rather than play this game, chasing the ever-diminishing dollar amount for online content, I have to wonder: Might it be better to stay away from Demand Media and the like? If you can, wouldn't you choose to be paid well or else choose to work for free on deserving projects? Digital slavery doesn't sound good.

Better to find the people who really value your work, whether that value comes from financial riches or in simple appreciation. Lance Armstrong has done lots of charity work for free. He's been financially well-compensated as a champion. Do you think he'd consent to riding for $6 per hour? Why then would he expect writers to work at that level through Demand Media, which provides content for his site?

Now I'm going to send myself an email from the future. It's free, but immensely valuable.

Photo: Indigotimbre via Creative Commons License.