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Free

Seems Chris Anderson's book "Free" has even managed to get the heavyweights swinging at each other. The ruckus went something like this:

First, Malcolm Gladwell (an author I LOVE) threw a text-book combination (left-right-uppercut) critique at Free.

Then marketing guru Seth Godin (another author I LOVE) blasted a looping overhand right at Gladwell's critique. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective.

Finally, Lovecat extraordinaire Tim Sanders (a third author I LOVE) stepped in to play referee and wound up trying to choke out both Anderson and Godin with his own special arguments.

I had to rewind the action to make sure I understood it, but it was pretty intense. I'm not even in the right league, but I love a good scrap, so here's my two-cents (which I reworded as a comment on Sanders' blog).

I think Sanders' perspective is unfortunately predictable on this issue, and I also think it's causing him to miss the point. I believe that the model he describes is one that is on a collision course with culture. Godin said it this way: "Magazines and newspapers were perfect businesses for a moment of time, but they wouldn't have worked in 1784, and they're not going to work very soon in the future either." I think he's right, for purely anecdotal reasons. The abundance of data available to me for free poses equal value to the amount of data available at a price. I say equal because that data is still not easy to come by ... but that's changing every day. It's a whole lot easier to find what I'm looking for now than it was even five years ago. And I can find more of it.

Sure, the model is in place now, but for how much longer? The problem, as I see it, is that it's entirely based on the nebulous idea of intellectual property rights, an issue that grows more confusing with each passing day. The writing on the wall is clear: the complexity of the legal system + the overabundance of tools and channels for data redistribution = an unavoidable collapse is on the way. Whether it looks like Anderson's "Free" or not remains to be seen. But I think it's safe to say that it won't always look the way Sanders or even Gladwell has described it. I also think it's safe to say that those who don't find a way to adapt will be the real victims ... and it won't be culture that is to blame.

I personally have come to believe that the future is one in which data will be free and service and experience will cost a premium price. Of course, this is nothing new. It's actually how the world of commerce began. The thought of paying for "content" is fairly new in world history. And digital content, no matter how much we argue, is always going to be viewed the same way, simply because we cannot touch, taste, smell or feel it. (Of course, that could all change if the Scifi writers have it right.)

My advice (if it matters), is to give away some valuable content and use it as a marketing tool to draw buyers into your premium services and experiences. And if you want, save your very best content for those experiences only.

[For the record, I purchase my music via downloads mostly through Rhapsody and Amazon. And I rarely ever buy eBooks ... I still prefer the feel of a real book in one hand, and a red ink pen in the other.]

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