Encore! More Free Playing


The story around Free continues (talking about a nice marketing strategy). A review from Malcolm Gladwell (yes, the Blink and Tipping Point guy) in The New Yorker elicited a response from Anderson on his blog, causing another Internet aficionado, Seth Godin, to again take sides (Anderson’s side that is). Seems like a dinosaur fight (though very gentlemanlike of course). Gladwell’s argument revolves around the notion that the money, or better said, the payment for services provided, has to come from and end up somewhere. As Gladwell states: ‘It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganizing itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards.”’  He thus states that ‘free is just another price’ and information can’t actually want to be free, as it can’t really ‘want’ anything; the actors in the system want it to be free in order to make some money around free (‘free represents an enormous business opportunity’). Next to that Gladwell argues that whereas the costs of the digital product might be nearing zero, the costs to produce the product or content still make up a large amount of the price, as John Naughton also elaborates on in his review in The Observer.

Anderson responds by stating that the circular reasoning of which Gladwell accuses him does no longer pertain in a gift economy in which content is truly being produced without the aim of creating money. The circle ends when it concerns money and expands into the realm of the nonmonetary. In Andersons words: ‘Somewhere down the chain, the incentives go from monetary to nonmonetary (attention, reputation, expression, etc).’ Godin takes this argument even further stating that ‘In a world of free, everyone can play’, meaning that in an abundance and attention economy as the world wide web is, many people are willing to write for free. This does not mean everybody will write for free and no one will pay for online content anymore.

4 kinds of free

As Drake Bennett writes in his review for The Boston Globe, this idea of a minority of fee-payers for the deluxe services in a freemium model, is one Anderson sees as highly probable. From the review: The advantage of freemium, Anderson argues, is that in a digital world, the cost of widely disseminating the free stuff is low enough that you don’t actually need that large a percentage of premium clients to make it work. Indeed, in general, Anderson sees the mind-boggling scale of the Internet as central to its ability to sustain free institutions, especially totally free ones like Wikipedia, which survives on the altruistic efforts of a minuscule proportion of its planet-wide set of users.’ Selection might also become more valuable in an attention economy, becoming another basis of potential revenue, picking the pearls from the heaps of free. As Godin writes: ‘The reason that we needed paid contributors before was that there was only economic room for a few magazines, a few TV channels, a few pottery stores, a few of everything. In world where there is room for anyone to present their work, anyone will present their work. Editors become ever more powerful and valued, while the need for attention grows so acute that free may even be considered expensive.’

Meanwhile, Chris Anderson had been busy thinking about ways to offer Free for free, whilst of course creating the necessary viral buzz around that at the same time. Latest news is the free availability of the MP3 audio book download, either as a free download via Wired or via the online radio community Spotify. Next to that Anderson thought of an elaborate scheme to offer not only the e-book as a free download but also to distribute free paper-back and price-reduced hard-back copies via Random House and, sponsored by Adobe. Although a little UK centered, I am already very glad with my audio download and will await the e-book. I will keep you posted when it goes live.

And here it is, from Scribd. Not sure if I can lawfully embed this though, since it has a traditional copyright notice (why no CC license Chris?). But hey, then don’t offer the embed option I would say 🙂


View this document on Scribd


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Open Reflections is created by Janneke Adema



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