Make it Free to Make Money

As Albert Einstein didn’t say: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” – he didn’t, it was feminist, civil rights campaigner and author, Rita Mae Brown.

See, you have learnt something already from reading this article.

Read on, there might be more!

Irrespective of its origin, that saying describes so much of the earth observation industry, it could be our motto.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen a number of articles decrying the difficulty and expense involved in buying earth observation data.

I think I wrote a similar piece in the summer of 1904.

However, the insanity in this case is that companies are trying to sell earth observation data at all.

It should be free.

It should be given away.

To anyone who is currently paying for it and especially, to anyone who didn’t know it existed or why they needed it.


Two years ago, I used the Fortnite business model to explain why the idea of the USGS charging for Landsat data, was an idiotic one (Get Them Hooked).

They agree and have themselves pointed out the numerous benefits created “once the USGS began distributing a standard-format, downloadable digital product at no charge over the Internet

The European Space Agency gets it.

But I hear you cry: commercial EO companies can’t do that!

They must show a return on the investment that it took to build and launch a satellite or more commonly these days, a constellation of satellites.

Yes, they must.

But they won’t from selling images to anyone but the military.

It took three hundred and eighty-two person-years of development to create WordPress.

According to the hardworking folk at, that represents an estimated cost of just a shade over 21 million dollars.

And they still give it away for free.

No profit in that market then?

Well in 2019 Automattic, the company that created, raised US$300 million on a valuation of US$3 billion.

And Envato, the biggest Australian company you’ve never heard of, is very likely turning over more than US$1 billion, every year. Much of that comes from WordPress themes and plugins.

Sales of WordPress plugins alone, are thought to be worth one billion dollars.

That’s the Fortnite model!

Buy a skin.

Buy a backpack.

Buy the Battle Pass.

Choose your future.

Choose your life.

Sorry, went all a bit Irvine Welsh there.

If the EO industry is ever to emerge from the dark corners of university geography departments, it must stop selling the raw materials of its trade and focus on selling the tools that make it work.

Or we could just keep proving Rita Mae right.

Over and over again.

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