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The FREE debate

Updated on July 18, 2009

Does "Free" make sense

This lens is a watercooler and discussion hub for the debate about Chris Anderson's new book. All proceeds go to charity.

Check below for the chronology of some of the posts, then chime in with your own take. It helps if you read the book at some point.

Part of what Chris, Malcolm and I do for a living is make sweeping, provocative statements that don't always include every nuance. It's the only way to make a point effectively in a short window of time. I don't think anyone (including Chris) believes that we're about to enter an era where everything (even everything digital) is going to be free. My take is that this is one of those moments when things change, and fast, and this change represents an opportunity.

The sad thing is that the people best prepared to take advantage of this opportunity (those that create digitizable content already) are not only ignoring the opportunity, they're fighting it.

Their intransigence is your opportunity...

Free by Chris Anderson

Free: The Future of a Radical Price
Free: The Future of a Radical Price

Chris, editor of Wired and author of the "Long Tail" is back with a new book that goes deeply into the economics and marketing of free.

The argument is complex, but I summarize it as a price that has marketing built in. Free leads to virality, to trial and to attention.

In a marketplace with low marginal costs and many competitors, it feels inevitable for most digital goods.


The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

You know what this book is about, but have you read it? You should.

Not overrated. Not one bit.


What do you think?

What's the future of 'Free'?

Chime in!

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    • LaptopLeader profile image

      LaptopLeader 4 years ago

      The cheese on a mousetrap is free. But you still have to pay a price... Unless you're a really smart mouse.

    • profile image

      Dreamzanstuff 7 years ago

      Life is not free, it costs breath. Love is not free, it costs kisses. I wear my eyes out blinking. I wear my ass out thinking.

      .ti fo ekas eht rof tsuj, woc elprup a si ecnetnes siht

    • profile image

      themerchant 8 years ago

      You know whats funny, powerful people, specially the ones in politics always use the word FREE... but it never ends up how the word really means.

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      Benedict_Roff-Marsh 8 years ago

      Many things have always been free and always will be. Water itself is free. It falls out of the sky that way (which of course means it isn't free of gravity!) but we pay for the service that makes it clean and pipes it into our houses.

      To the traditional Industrial Revolution business, water in nature is a non-thing. Water running out a tap is thing. However the Industrial Revolution period is passing. Digital gives us another age where non-things are equal to or more important than things.

      There is fear and misuse as we transition, just as in the early days people were treated as things, cogs to use, break and replace. The old boss doesn't like change. The new boss needs the power. The old boss calls it stealing, the new boss calls it his by right. The new boss is really the old boss trying to take advantage.

      I give all my information free (on my site and now a lens) because my expertise in action is what I can say is mine.


    • profile image

      neca 8 years ago

      There are free electronic versions of 'Free' available free that might be useful to add to this lense.

      I recommend audio.

    • Kazooli LM profile image

      Kazooli LM 8 years ago

      Take it for free...when you give something back. That can be your details to an opt in list or...your mother in law depending on the bargain. Perhaps mother in laws can be given away for free...have to look into it but then again who would have them?



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      naturalbody 8 years ago

      Yeah I believe free is a overused word these days, its more about credibility. When talking to a freind recently on the sunject they said yeah it says free, but it in the end you end up spending somewhere.. Its more like a free test before buying these days..

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      jeremylichtman 8 years ago

      The bad news (for just about everybody reading this) is that Free isn't just effecting the monetary value of content and intellectual property. The bad news is that virtually everything (I'm talking stuff in the physical world) is starting to go the same way. Don't believe me? Read the article I wrote on Open Source Manufacturing on my blog ( We're only seeing the opening shots in this war. Your job/business is at stake here too.

    • profile image

      nri2ibh 8 years ago

      Lots is free in the internet and things get cheaper as mass use or mass production takes place. History proves this aspect. So a lot of what has been said is true. But then surely FREE does attract attention and is a attention grabber for sure , particularly in these recession hit tough times.So lets say fifty fifty agreement and disagreement.

    • profile image

      micronauta 8 years ago

      Granularity: The industry has not yet successfully made use of the interactive and contextual dimensions available through the web.

      If we make ads more valuable to the user, increase the signal/noise ratio, content can become a sustainable business again because users will stop ignoring the ads.

      Users have always ignored ads, on paper and on the web, but clients have only figured that out recently thanks to the web.

      AdSense and adwords are just the first step. We now need more granular, better tagged, highly semantic and lower noise content sites.

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 8 years ago

      An interesting take on things but I will stick with, it doesn't seem to make any sense to me. Not at this time anyway.

    • profile image

      amievoltaire 8 years ago

      Makes sense ~It already is isn't it. Squidoo?

    • profile image

      SirMalcolm 8 years ago

      "Free" is just a smokescreen for "Greed". Look at Gladwell's example of Amazon offering the Dallas Newspaper only 30% of the pie AND insisting on the right to further license it for its own profit. How about ringtones? iTunes pays out 70% to the content provider other online stores pay more. Big Comm Corps charge $2-3 for just a piece of your song and throw you only 30-50 cents. Sure--we're between paradigms and the new one requires us to provide more handouts, but marketing has always had loss leaders and today content is getting paid for somewhere--but it seems only big dollar operations are netting the profits at the expense of content providers.

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      messel 8 years ago

      What's the future of 'Free'?

      I wasn't clear on the distinction between choices. I agree with both Seth.

      Freemium is a model that appears to work. Some free stuff that cool to create a community, and then paid extra stuff to support the business.

      Attention -> dollars via ads and affiliate sales.

      Content creators that help connect visitors to other businesses can monetize without charging their readership directly.

      I'm working on a personalized/customized ad agent that is powered by people's public social media status updates. Not only that, but this simple framework (standing on the shoulders of some powerful semantic tools) will help find content customized to you (not just ads). Imagine dynamic web pages composed of aggregated data that your virtual assistant discovers for you. check my blog for more info (intelligent advertising or monetizing web2010),

    • profile image

      JosephFerrara 8 years ago

      Free is a marketing model, not a business model (if you equate business with profit). It's also not new, nor revolutionary, simply because it is being used on the net-- the net just lets you survive longer than in the brick and mortar world-- there is still a drain on resources. Ultimately, you have to provide value to get paid and value is the business model where every startup should focus.

      The notion of free as some Holy Grail of net success is keeping too many folks on "wife support". Free has become a knee-jerk internet startup model. What free has become on the web is a VC model-- give it free, get a lot of folks to use it-- then sell it off to the VCs who add the business model to monetize it.

      Since virtually everything on the net is free, I think Seth got it wrong when he says free gets attention. If you really want to get attention, and beat free--- pay folks to try your product.

    • profile image

      MarcusRiedner 8 years ago

      The issue is that content production has become so cheap, and the skills so available, that the value for content is nothing. As a designer I've seen my skillset spread like wildfire, and my value drop like a rock, over the last 10 years. When people talk about 'free' I think they mean that the actual content is free, and that you need novel business models to drive earnings. Take the company I work for, Sharing Books ( ) as an example: ebooks for kids, free. On top of that 1/3 of revenues donated to charity. We make money right now through donations and sponsorship. Making money in the content game is about novel business models, including donations and pay for extras.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      This looks like an interesting book. It takes a lot of getting used to the whole "free" thing since we've been programmed for so long the other way. Plus it takes a little more creativity to utilize "free" to your advantage. There's no going back now though - we all have to embrace it.

    • CoCreatr profile image

      CoCreatr 8 years ago

      Free is a workable method of risk reversal. 100% satisfaction or your money back!

      Go try it, within sponsor's limits and with a business model to achieve fair compensation for the value you deliver. Ultimately your customers and society decide your profits.

      Disclosure: I have yet to read either book. So much for free advice.

    • profile image

      jaredsasser 8 years ago

      Add to 'free' a highly profitable niche product with little competition and you establish yourself in a much stronger position than someone using 'free' with a commodity-based product. Gladwell caught hold on one point and never let go, thus distorting the legitimate point Chris Anderson raised. Free is happening in specific segments and those in that segment must adjust accordingly or they will be in search of another business, sooner than later. The market decides which business model it wants, and we either adjust or fail. See my post at