Sometime in the last year I was reading yet another article preaching give-it-away-for-free (the it being your book, your record, your film – your whatever could be digitized) and then sell your true fans the very special limited addition, gold foil wrapped, signed collector’s edition, or if not that, a t-shirt or a stuffed animal or whatever. This approach has been pro-offered (time and time again) as the solution to a world that does not offer artists who work in easily replicated distribution mediums a way to exchange their work for money with those who wish to pay for it without making it freely available to those who wish to enjoy it but do not wish to pay for it.

As I was reading this it hit me; this is not an especially “low-impact” approach to making a living as an artist.

The low-impact approach would be to make the creative work once, and then distribute it in as small a foot-print form factor as possible, with protectable digital distribution being near ideal.

What is not ideal is turning songs or novels or movies into loss-leader for more crap — t-shirts, collectors edition box sets, and whatnot. Putting “Comstock Films” or “Helvetica” or “NIN” or whatever on a t-shirt and selling it for $19.95 is not value added, and it’s not a real substitute for compensating artists for their investment of time and money.

At best it’s an ugly kludge that ought to be a source of deep shame to anyone who claims to care about the real possibilities that digitized culture offers, and doubly so if you claim to care about leaving a smaller foot print on a planet increasingly strained by the crush of humanity.

But we don’t have protectable digital distribution, and I don’t expect we ever will. It’s unfashionable, reviled by the digital cognoscenti; and even if it weren’t I not even sure it’s possible.