FREE – Thoughts on Chris Anderson’s new book

30Jul09
FREE - By Chris Anderson

FREE - By Chris Anderson

I’m sure you are familiar with Chris Anderson. As well as being the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine and an engaging presenter and advocate of digital technology; he is also the author of The Long Tail.

I liked the Long Tail. It was an engaging book built around a well established idea – that in statistics, frequency distribution has revealed a ‘long tail’ of minority outliers that break from the frequent/average.

According to Wikipedia, a source not always referenced by Chris Anderson himself perhaps: ‘A search for the phrase “long tail” in the database MathSciNet yielded 81 hits, the earliest being a 1946 paper by Brown and Tukey in the Annals of Mathematical Statistics (volume 17, pages 1–12).

So the Long Tail is a pithy and evocative encapsulation of an empirically proven idea that demonstrates its value in the digital age – particularly through examples such as Amazon selling large quantities (when aggregated together) of inventory for books not frequently stocked by your local book store.

As a side note, it’s interesting that The Long Tail appeared in Wired Magazine in 2004, before a fully fledged book was released in 2006. For Chris Anderson’s next book, FREE, I noted an article in Wired in February 2008 (Link: HERE). With the book FREE published in early 2009. So this tells me the new book was developed more rapidly. In fact Chris Anderson came under fire for copying and pasting sections from Wikipedia entries into the manuscript for FREE (Link: HERE) without referencing the attribution of the content. But rather than dwell on that (he apologised after being caught), here are the three things I wanted to share.

1. Chris Anderson is practicing what he preaches, by offering a free download of his new book HERE if you hurry along to the link by 14th August 2009. You may also purchase a hard copy from his site.

2. Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Outliers) has reviewed the new book and you may wish to read this review in The New Yorker from the Link: HERE

I admit I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell and you may wish to obtain a copy of his interesting book OUTLIERS.

His 10,000 Hour Rule and the chapter on the Power-Distance Index, showing how authority is handled in different cultures interested me greatly.

3. My thought on FREE.

You may wish to read this after Malcolm’s review.

I believe the key thoughts behind Chris Anderson’s book FREE are based on the digital market, but as it was developing a few years ago; and specifically before the current global recession. It relies on the idea that if you will build, people will come (like the model for construction and development in Dubai), and that you’ll hopefully find a way eventually for someone to pay for it. Typically this, in Chris Anderson’s view, is through operating a FREE service and hoping advertising generates enough revenue. Or hoping, perhaps, that some repeat purchase may build your business revenue if the content you offer was genenrated by others for FREE.

I don’t believe that FREE delivers quality or viable business in every instance. Or that the correction in media spend from advertisers, the over-supply of digital media inventory; or the variable quality of digital content and media effectiveness measures will allow FREE to be the panacea Chris Anderson has portrayed.

However offering a service for FREE does what some digital consultants might describe as ‘resonate strongly with consumers’ -particularly teens and students. After-all, who wouldn’t want something great for FREE?

Personally I believe subscription models for ‘all you can eat ‘ media content, as well as micro-transaction payments (small fee per view/slice/hour of content/service use) are also credible, desirable and compelling business revenue tools.

The interesting opportunity perhaps is when you link this DIGITAL REVENUE TRINITY (FREE, Subscription and Micro-Transactions) with brands that offer quality content, products and services that support DIGITAL CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT (via Consumer Collaboration, Co-Creation and Content Tailoring). As these factors allow consumers to get what they want, in the way that they want it, wherever they want it.

This is something I believe a valuable market will pay for, ensuring the business model is relevant, but isn’t reliant only on ad revenue or offering a FREE service. I’m not at all discounting the idea of FREE offers, FREE reduced/limited services or FREE trial periods. But ultimately my point of difference is that people will pay for quality and quality costs money to develop and sustain. Which is why perhaps I would prefer Chris Anderson would have referenced more digital businesses that are actually making a profit, rather than those making a loss.

But then again, I’m not Editor-in-Chief of Wired magazine. So perhaps I’m the one that is wrong?

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