I have a longstanding interest in the future of creative work -- who will pay for it, how, and will artists see any of the money. Much ink, both digital and otherwise, has been spilled on questions like: Is the availability of music on "free" download services like Limewire and Kaaza going to spell the end of the music industry? Will anyone be able to afford the studio time to produce a CD if it's only going to pop up for free the day after it's released?
Or, will the current system simply eliminate the greedy corporate middlemen and free up artists to produce and distribute their own content -- and thereby hold onto a much bigger share of the profits?
The mainstream media has trouble with file-sharing services, seeing them as a means by which millions of otherwise fine, upstanding citizens can commit mass piracy (read, theft). Along comes cartoonist Scott McCloud with a beautiful summation of his own history with music taping and downloading. He also describes how micropayments can work for comic book artists and other independent artists. Highly recommended for its clarity and wit.
And when you're done with that, check out Sean Barrett's detailed response.
I'm inclined to think that McCloud's approach will somehow win out in the long run. I-Tunes' .99 a song has always seemed ridiculously expensive for digital content, but I'd happily pay 10 cents a song, or $1.50, to download a fifteen-song CD. As Chris Anderson stated so clearly in his brilliant and seminal Long Tail article (ESSENTIAL READING! IF YOU HAVEN'T CHECKED IT OUT, DO SO NOW AND THEN COME BACK), you can compete with free, but only within reason.
Not only will more material be available to more people for less money, but artists will earn a bigger percentage of the pot, too. Ignore the naysayers; thanks to the web, the future of creativity looks very bright indeed!