Chris Anderson Takes Up The Free Banner
from the economics-of-free dept
As we mentioned recently, Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson has been working on a book called “Free” for a while now. To kick off discussion on the concept he’s now written an article in Wired describing how “free” has been a part of economics for a while and then noting that it’s becoming more common thanks to the digitization of so many industries. It’s one more piece of the puzzle that you can point people to when they insist that “free” is a bad business model. While it’s great that he’s writing the book (and has written this article) as it will add to the wider understanding of how “free” needs to fit into so many business models, I have a couple of very minor quibbles about it.
The first, is that even though he positions “free” as something that’s played a role in business models for a while, at the end he implies that this has “turned economics upside down.” That probably helps sell books, but it’s incorrect. By this point, we should be wary of books that claim economics has somehow “changed.” As even Chris noted earlier in the piece, all it’s really doing is applying economics correctly and realizing that “zero” doesn’t break basic economic equations (as many had assumed it would). The second problem, is that by focusing on the most incendiary part (“free”) it gets people focused too much on the controversial part, rather than the useful part. Again, that probably helps sell books, but as I’ve discovered here, focusing too much on “free” simply gets people yelling at you, rather than taking time to understand the arguments you’re making. We’re already seeing this, as News.com has a snip describing Anderson’s theory as “more money can be made tricking consumers into thinking they are getting something for nothing.” There’s no “tricking” at all, but some people have trouble accepting that notion when it comes to “free.” Perhaps it is for the best, though. Chris knows a lot more about selling books and influencing people than I do — and if he can influence a lot more folks to recognize that “free” isn’t a bad thing, then that’s going to help push a lot of businesses forward.