What I Want When I Want It: Chris Anderson’s Free


The first time that I read Chris Anderson’s new book “Free” was on a website called Scribd.  The book had just been released and Scribd was (and still is) allowing readers to check out the book’s entire content for free: so long as you’re not trying to read the book for free from Canada.  That kind of cross-border digital experience is strictly forbidden.

Didn’t bother me much. I wasn’t paying for it so I couldn’t really argue but I’ve been following some of the conversations and interviews that Mr Anderson has been doing online over the past month and I thought that I’d share a few links that I think are interesting.

The first link will take you to the lengthy article at Wired.com that forms the basic argument for his book, Free. The article is called “Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.”

And then there’s a very interesting interview that he did with Der Spiegel Online about the demise of print journalism, traditional media and the inability of old terminology to adequately describe new realities.

The interview is called “Maybe Media Will Be a Hobby Rather Than a Job” which is a mis-quote from something that Anderson said during the interview. It sounds juicier when taken out of context.

The interview ends with this nifty little exchange in italics below.  I think it’s a lucid distillation of the issues that journalism, traditional media and the publishing industry are facing now.

SPIEGEL: Conclusion: There is no convincing solution so far — even from provocateurs like yourself?

Anderson: I think we will discover that whatever the business model of the 20th century was, it will be different in the 21st. Maybe we realize that selling ads is not the business we’re in. Maybe we’re into selling online content to audiences, or in creating communities or into selling events — in a similar way to which parts of the music industry is making money from concerts. Maybe companies that were built around the old business model will go away and other companies will come up, in much the same way as old record industry labels may disappear but the Apples of the world, with their iPods and iPhones, will continue to do well.

SPIEGEL: One last thing, why isn’t your book free?

Anderson: You only pay for the hardcover version. The marginal cost for the digital file is zero, so I’ll give the digital text and the audio files away for free. However, if you want to have the abridged audio book in a 3-hour-version, then you’ll have to pay.

SPIEGEL: Because time is money?

Anderson: Exactly.

* I have added this last bit to the conversation that Michael Tamblyn and I had over at the ShortCoversBlog and have updated my earlier post about eBooks pricing.  Note Anderson’s mention of ‘marginal cost’ for a digital file – it would appear that Scribd is still offering Free for free on their site but Amazon US has it for $19.99 ($9.99 for the Kindle edition) and ShortCovers has it on their site for $9.99 ($11.99 CDN).  The devil is in the details as always.

** By the way, I was tipped to a lot of this by Andrew Savikas who wrote about it here.  If you’re not familiar with Andrew’s work please take the time to read through his site especially his piece, Content is a Service Business.  Compulsory reading.

Sean Cranbury is the Executive Editor of Books on the Radio. He's also Founder and Creative Director of the Real Vancouver Writers' Series. Sean is General Manager at the legendary Storm Crow Tavern and consults with literary arts organizations on digital communications strategies.

1 Comment

  • Chris Anderson’s pov is always fascinating, interesting that you first found his work on scribd or whatever it’s called. cuedos…

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