Watching Chris Anderson on Colbert last night gives me an excuse to write this little blog entry about Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of A Radical Price. Certainly it has stirred up debate, as such notions should. But a number of Anderson’s critics seem positively affronted that anyone could make an argument in favor of “free” as a business model. They react as if Anderson were a cross between an evil genius out to destroy the capitalist system, a charlatan peddling snake oil to the gullible, and an ignorant posseur worthy only of contempt. Mind you, that’s always life in the blogosphere to some degree, but is it really that crazy?
Happily, Tim Lee over at Technology Liberation Front has already written a cogent defense of Anderson’s actual argument. “Free” doesn’t mean everything free everywhere all the time, but it does mean that folks need to rethink traditional business models in light of changing technology and user expectations. Using free to either collect something of value to someone else (such as personal information or an audience) and/or taking the opportunity to “up sell” a premium service (or, as Anderson explained to Colbert, “Fremium”) has worked for many people and businesses.
Indeed, let me go one further on the crazy meter for you. Back at the beginning of the century, someone came up with an even crazier business model than “free.” Looking at new technology, this ignorant young pup adopted the business model of “pay other people to take my stuff.” Now what dumb ass thinks that you could make a living investing lots of money in creating a product, then actually paying people to take it from you. What a moron, right?
The fellow in question was William Paley, who built the CBS network on the model of paying affiliates to take programming. Paley deduced that he could charge advertisers more than enough money to cover the cost of program production and affiliate fees if he could offer advertisers a big enough audience. Meanwhile, a few hours north in New York City, a number of electronics companies (RCA, Westinghouse, and General Electric) were developing a model around cheap content to sell advertising and radios.
So all I am saying, is give free a chance.
Stay tuned . . .