Monday, June 14, 2010

Free by Chris Anderson

Source: Wired magazine (Zipped mp3s)
Length: Approx. 6 hr
Reader: Chris Anderson

The book: Many of the online comments about Free: the Future of a Radical Price have completely missed the point of the book. In this book, Wired editor Chris Anderson is not arguing that that internet piracy is good or that everything should be free. Instead, Anderson calls attention to something you probably already know: giving away some things for free helps marketers to get the attention of paying customers.

What's new about this? Anderson points out that in the past, most free giveaways were limited by the cost of the object: a free sample size of detergent, a free toy in the cereal box, a free razor with expensive replacement blades. Now, with the extremely low cost of data storage and bandwidth, online providers can give away lots of free stuff with very little marginal cost. This allows them to give away content to millions of people while expecting only a small percent to ever buy anything. So, we can have free multiplayer online games where only a few people pay for more powerful equipment; free software where a few heavy users will pay for premium features; and a free audiobook for which a few people will pay for a hard copy.

My main criticism of this book is that it focuses on business success stories. I would've liked to hear a bit more about what happens when things go wrong: when does free not work and why? I also was disappointed that Anderson doesn't delve into some of the great non-profits give things away for free. Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, and Librivox are some of the biggest producers of free content on the internet, yet they don't make one cent of profit.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: This is a professionally produced audiobook with high production values and low background noise. Anderson reads his own material with a breezy, conversational tone. The overall effect is that of being at a particularly slick business seminar, but without the sleep-inducing Power Point presentations.

1 comment:

Jan said...

Cool! Thanks for this. I just saw Anderson speak about a week ago, and though I bought both his books, I far prefer listening to audiobooks over reading print these days. Your link to the Wired article with the mp3s means that I'll actually get around to taking this in sometime soon.

Oh, and just because I can't utter two sentences without invoking Cory Doctorow, I'll just mention that he raised some similar points in his own review of the book: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2009/jul/28/cory-doctorow-free-chris-anderson

Cheers,
Jan Rubak