Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 1, 2009 9:35 PM

The Idea Of Free Is Radical - So People Are Going To Freak Out

There are those who write books that explain where the world is at. There are those who write books about where the world is going. If you do the latter, you have to be prepared for the disbelievers and haters.

Chris Anderson is the editor of Wired Magazine who also had a stellar best-selling business book called, The Long Tail. As you'll note in this excellent interview with Anderson (Managing The Gray - Chris Anderson Interview), he is quick to admit that his books take ideas that are already "out there" and packages the content together with data, stories and more (to be honest, he is being more than a little humble. Being able to coin a term or point out a new way of doing things is never so easy or obvious). His latest book is called, Free - The Future of a Radical Price, in which Anderson discusses an interesting new business model where giving something away for free is actually good (and smart) for business. It's not entirely radical if you check out the many common examples we have been seeing in the past few years that validate his thesis (think about Suze Orman, who gave her entire book away as a free download in conjunction with an appearance on Oprah and still had a #1 best-selling book). He even pre-tested the concept with this cover story in Wired Magazine back in February 2008: Free! Why $0.00 Is The Future Of Business.

The idea of giving your stuff away for free will shock and dismay many business people and popular thinkers.

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, best-selling business book author and journalist, Malcolm Gladwell (he of Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers fame) takes exception to some of the concepts that Anderson published. You can read the full book review here: Priced To Sell - Is Free The Future? Anderson responds to Gladwell's criticism on his own Blog here: Dear Malcolm: Why so threatened?

This is what makes the Internet (and, more specifically, Blogs) so amazing. Almost instantaneous back and forth with additional comments from the community as well. It becomes one big and thoroughly engaging discussion, conversation and debate.

Even Seth Godin (another best-selling business book author - Purple Cow, Tribes, etc...) added his perspective here: Malcolm is wrong. Like all great debates, it's clear that there are (at least) three sides to this story, but Godin makes some very salient points: "Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won't work. The big reason is simple: In a world of free, everyone can play. This is huge. When there are thousands of people writing about something, many will be willing to do it for free (like poets) and some of them might even be really good (like some poets). There is no poetry shortage."

If Anderson, Gladwell and Godin are in the midst of this very fascinating debate, the least you can do is take a read-through of the links above, learn about the topic and - if you're interested - join the conversation.

Seth Godin even set-up a Squidoo lens to debate the topic right here: The FREE Debate.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Art
    Mitch Joel

    Ironic his books going for about $20CND why not put your money where your mouth is. These things which are being discussed are no more free in the end as "Honest Eds free turkeys" were. There is always a cost "time is money" someone's gonna pay in the end and I think people are smart enough to get that. This is not a new concept Advertisers have been using the "free  angle" for as long as there's been competition.

    Like Mitch mentions hear poets and artist have been doing there crafts for free forever - if this is to become a new strategy for the future of business, someone tell me why it didn't work in the past (don't say no internet) and why it will now. I know he mentioned technology is almost free that doesn't change things. Technology is just a vehicle it is not the product.

    Don't get me wrong I recognize many great business and artists alike have found themselves success through their sacrifice of time and money on the web. But with the web constantly changing and growing so does the noise which makes it increasingly harder to find these diamonds in the ruff.

    There are plenty of "web soldiers" out there like Mitch that go to war for us to clear the noise but they too can't sustain the world of free - they need a day job or they aint eating. The fact is you gotta be good you gotta be found and banking on free as a new way to be found  is not gonna get you there when you just one of many needles in a haystack. Just listen to all the great underground music that's been out there for free for years. Yes you may have heard of them but its not there poster your hanging on your daughters wall. So if by free Chris means "Honest Eds free trukeys" then hey I agree it works it always has - but if he means some kind of NEW FREE then I say people are people and at the end of the day free wont do - remember when water use to be free.

    For all the successful free business practicing entrepreneurs out there  that say this NEW FREE works I'm living prof. Look around you and notice that you are amongst the fortunate few kinda like a web base newwave  lotto winner. 

    Thoughts, ideas, music, and words have long been exploited buy the HAVEs at the cost of the HAVE NOTS. This "NEW FREE" will never work - don't kid yourself its a greedy wolf in sheeps clothing looking for nothing more than a free ride or perhaps an Armani wearing Marxist.

    This I wrote for FREE and it shows :-)

    Reply
  • Posted by Ian Rountree
    Mitch Joel

    I always feel silly for responding to comments more than articles, but I need to mimic Seth here.

    Art is wrong.

    But the trouble isn't specifically with the argument, just the direction. Free isn't the end-all, I'll agree with that. As a working-poor retail clerk, I spend a lot of time looking for (and often failing to find) Free to help me out. Worse (or better), as the owner of an upstart blog that's trying to go professional, I see the usefulness of Free perhaps more clearly than some others.

    Free isn't just a cost, it's a concept. Look at the professional blogs out there. Does anyone have to pay for them? No. How do they stay afloat? They act as portals to other, related, useful services which are not free.

    And that's the key point Chris and Seth and by extension Mitch are trying to make here. I don't think anyone expects a day where everything is free and we abolish money. That's perhaps impractical. But Free is certainly an awesome marketing tool, and good consumer relations.

    But then again, what do I know? I just do things for free because I think the things I do are important enough to be widely available and I understand that not many people can or are willing to pay for knowledge. I haven't even read the book, what do I know from Free?

    Reply
  • Posted by Blaise Alleyne
    Mitch Joel

    Mike Masnick also weighed in on this one with an awesome and somewhat lengthy review of the book and debate:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090701/0422125421.shtml

    Reply
  • Posted by Daniel Sevitt
    Mitch Joel

    I think the idea of Free is so far from radical that I'm amazed Mr. Anderson's publishers still agreed to honor his contract.

    I said my piece here: http://blog.eyeviewdigital.com/2009/07/chris-anderson-malcolm-gladwell-seth-godin-and-me.html

    Reply
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