The fact that digital content can be distributed for no additional cost does not explain the huge number of creative people who make their work available for free. After all, they are still investing their time without being paid back. Why?
The answer is simple: creators are not publishers, and putting the power to publish directly into their hands does not make them publishers. It makes them artists with printing presses. This matters because creative people crave attention in a way publishers do not. Prior to the internet, this didn’t make much difference. The expense of publishing and distributing printed material is too great for it to be given away freely and in unlimited quantities–even vanity press books come with a price tag. Now, however, a single individual can serve an audience in the hundreds of thousands, as a hobby, with nary a publisher in sight.
This disrupts the old equation of ‘fame and fortune’. For an author to be famous, many people had to have read, and therefore paid for, his or her books. Fortune was a side-effect of attaining fame. Now, with the power to publish directly in their hands, many creative people face a dilemma they’ve never had before: fame vs fortune.