One of the best comments in the free/not-free discussion I’ve ever read was by Laura Fitton (@pistachio on Twitter) on CC Chapman’s blog last October. Reprinted from the source:

The event isn’t, and from what little I understand, never was FREE. In a way, no event ever is. It is subsidized by sponsors and by volunteer hours. You attend for free, because somebody else paid your way. Simple as that.

I think opening up the option for it to be a nominal fee, or a pay what you want, or some other locally-derived setup, and oriented largely towards keeping attendance expectations (and resulting volunteer hours) in line with reality, is 100% reasonable.

While anticipating an event that huge, the volunteer corps of organizers really had to bust their guts. Hard. Long hours, much stress. Value their time at a nominal rate of $10 or even $5 an hour, and you see that a very small group paid hundreds and thousands for the rest of us to have the event for free.

Laura nailed it in one.

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