I’m a firm believer in the need for things to be free (or almost free). Among the things I believe should be free are:

1. Newspapers: In India, newspapers cost almost nothing. So I was shocked when I came to Hong Kong and found that newspapers weren’t cheap. Since I couldn’t bear to buy a newspaper, I decided to work for one. Even then, when my paycheck depended on the principle of news making money, I continued to believe that charging subscriptions was a waste of time. I still do.

2. Books: I would love to be that girl who spends hours browsing in bookstores, buys a tones of books and stacks them up on her heaving bookshelves. Instead, I am just the girl who spends a lot of time browsing in bookstores. I find books shockingly expensive. Especially since I am never sure if I am going to like a book enough to finish it, or to ever read it again. Finally, I have come to terms with the fact that I will only buy authors I already know and love or books I’ve already read. (this is another one for that list). For the rest, it’s the library and thank God for Hong Kong’s public library system. Till very recently, I was also a patron of the guys who come around selling pirated books at traffic lights. My reasoning was that since I lived in a third world country (or grew up in one) I should pay third world prices for books. However, now that I moved to Hong Kong and am not a pauvre journalist anymore, I decided I could afford to buy books in shops but only in India where books are much cheaper. In fact, my current favourite thing to ask people to get me from India is books by Indian authors.

3. Music: I haven’t paid for music since I was in college and it was fashionable to buy and trade CDs. Then limewire happened to me. Or rather my cousin who was a limewire addict. I am too lazy to actually download anything. Also apparently in Hong Kong you can’t download legally from iTunes because the site is not enabled here. I’m told. I never tried. You will be happy to know, however, that I recently paid for music on my iPhone. I suddenly realised it wasn’t so expensive after all. So who knows… maybe this will become a habit.

4. Movies: That is, the ones one would watch at home. I still go to the cinema a lot. Mainly because it is just something to do when the weather’s bad and you want to get out of the house but you don’t want to go shopping for fear of what might happen to your wallet or to a restaurant in deference to your expanding waistline. However, these days I try to limit my cinema-going to just movies that are worth watching on big screen. Which means that a lot can be watched on small screen. However, I have now abandoned pirated DVDs and illegal downloads for movie because the quality is always hit-and-miss and I get very grumpy if I’m into a movie and the screen starts to skip.

5. Cultural events such as performances, public lectures etc: As a journalist, I had access to all of these free. Even some holidays were free (inexplicably called junkets). So now I cannot bear to pay for them (Except for holidays, thankfully. I was always stressed out on those free trips, earnestly scrambling to everyone’s bemusement get good stories out of what was intended as a pleasure trip). Luckily since I work for a university, a lot of this happens right where I work. So I can stock up on freebie culture and intellectual discourse.

6. Education: My education in India right up to the postgraduate level cost a laughable amount. Thus, I don’t see why I should ever pay for an education. Again, this is quite ironic considering my present job but I seem to have an attitude that is permanently opposed to moneymaking potential of my workplace.

Anyway, I am aware that most of this is completely illogical and doesn’t present me in a very good light (honesty, as ever, being my credo). However, I stand by 1) at least. Some time ago, Rupert Murdoch said something about how he was going to make all his publications paid-for. I can’t argue with a canny businessman like Murdoch but I still feel like this strategy might not work. The world has changed and people are used to free access of information through the Internet. Paying for online content just seems wrong, and anyway safeguarding digital information is super-tricky. Wouldn’t it be easier to focus on advertising and attract more hits by providing free content?

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