OPEN REFLECTIONS

The Land of Free

Chris_AndersonLooking forward to reading Free, the long awaited book by WIRED main man and digital prophet Chris Anderson, author of the book with the already institutionalized title ‘The Long Tail’. In The Long Tail Anderson argued that the Internet will offer a new future (and bright business opportunities) for all those precious backlist titles and other long lost ephemera, now again findable and traceable thanks to the ultimate search powers of the world wide web. This theory, set out first in an article with the same title, has recently been criticized, but still gives a nice insider view on what the net is really all about: seek and thou shalt find.

Anderson’s new book Free: the future of a radical price, to be released July 7, is also based on an article released previously on/in WIRED. In this article, and more elaborately in the book I presume, Anderson discusses the omnipresence of free on the Internet, giving rise to what many believe is an inherent law of the web: everything online will eventually be free (in Anderson’s words: ‘It’s now clear that practically everything Web technology touches starts down the path to gratis, at least as far as we consumers are concerned’).

But how to make money with free? How to create incentives for people to produce content if everything online is free? How can we build an economy around freemium?

Two nice reviews in the Guardian (here and here) look at the book from different perspectives. The first one is mostly interested in the potential of the web for free business models, as an extension of the public domain. The last on the other hand criticizes Anderson’s lack of attention for what this trend will eventually lead to and this might perhaps have to Freedo with the problem of incentives for creating content when everything is free. But as Anderson shows, free does not mean money can not be made in another way (for instance through advertisements, cross-subsidizing, premium services, offering experiences, online vs. offline models etc.). Next to that the principle of the gift economy also plays a large role online. As Anderson states, money is not the only motivator to produce, and our economies are increasingly based on values like respect and time (reputation economy and attention economy). Still, on a very basic, practical level, something does sting here, foremost a lack of certainty that the free will actually make revenue in another way (granted in the old model sales are not certain either). So, I am looking forward to see how Anderson tackles this problem at a less theoretical level. A first preview part of the book has been published on/in WIRED here. Also via WIRED video, you can find a video of Anderson talking about Free underneath. And for the rest the wait is until July 7th.

On a side note: the book has been accused of plagiarism, taking uncredited source material from amongst others Wikipedia. Well, that only shows free has limits. Even free sharing of information still means we need to refer to our sources. Seems to me one of the basics of the reputation economy and this little stunt is definitely harming Anderson’s.

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