Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three Heavy Hitters Battle Over Free

Three heavy hitters in the marketing community went at it this week. It began with Chris Anderson's book, Free. The second heavy hitter, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a review for The New Yorker titled Priced To Sell: Is free the future?. His review disagreed with much of what Chris Anderson said in his book. Gradwell's claim being that no matter how cheap individual units of something become, the infrastructure of producing the whole will be too large to truly make them free. On Tuesday, Seth Godin came to Anderson's defense with his post, Malcolm is Wrong.

So, who is right? Are Chris Anderson and Seth Godin correct that we will reach the point where information is so cheap that we might as well give it away? Have we reached the point? Or is Malcolm Gladwell correct that the cost of generating and delivering the information will prevent us from offering it for free?

What was it your mother told you? There is no free lunch. I definitely am going to have to side with Malcolm Gladwell on this one. All of that content that looks free on the Internet isn't really free. Someone is paying for it. People are putting in many hours generating it and they are doing so expecting something in return. Yes, it could be the case that a singer is putting this information out there so you will pay to attend a concert. But not everyone performs. There are people who do nothing but do research and provide information in an easy to understand. It cost them time and money to do this. Just because we have computers that can disseminate this information to millions does not mean that the the work these people do does not have value. We can be sure of one thing, if the people who are putting in the time to generate quality content are not compensated for their work, the quality content will disappear and we will have nothing but what is generated by the activists, who are glad to publish their work for free if it means more people can be won to their cause.

I highly recommend that you read Malcolm Gladwell's review in The New Yorker. It is lengthy, but he has stated things much more clearly than I and he makes some very good points.

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